Two new light-infused installations make up the aptly titled exhibit “Permutations of Light,” currently on display at Wood Street Galleries in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, they are both immersive and thus creating contemplative, even meditative experiences.
The first piece visitors will come to is “Gold,” located on the second floor. It is the latest in Vancouver-based artist David Spriggs’ chromatic artwork series of what he calls “Stratachromes,” which examine contemporary symbolic meanings of color.
At 36 feet wide, Spriggs’ monumental installation presents 11 inverted yellow-golden human figures painted on 24 layers of transparent acetate sheets — giving them a three-dimensional quality — that are hung within an inverted pyramid structure.
Initially reminiscent of the pediment of the New York Stock Exchange, “Gold,” in the spirit of pittura infamante (defaming portrait), turns the glory of capitalism on its apex, revealing its current precarious state.
“It speaks to the widening inequity within the Global Wealth Pyramid and the concentration of excessive wealth and corresponding power into the hands of a select few,” says Murray Horne, Wood Street Galleries curator.
It is fitting that this provocative artwork is on display in the central business district in Pittsburgh, also known as the Golden Triangle. This historic location dates back to the gilded age, when the Mellons, Frick and Carnegie all had successful businesses and luxurious homes in Pittsburgh.
Like being haunted by ghosts from the past, visitors will likely be unsettled by the mirage-like-forms and suggestively pagan imagery painted in intensely saturated golden color.
Even more unsettling, thanks to the use of strobe lights, “Citadels” on the third floor is a completely immersive experience.
The piece is part of an ongoing project by Matthijs Munnik of The Hague, in which the Dutch artist has been investigating the nature of flickering light and its effect on perception.
In his immersive installations, brightly colored stroboscopic fields pulse through completely white spaces.
On entering the installation, the visitor’s field of view becomes filled with intricate patterns, geometric shapes and imaginary colors, in essence creating strong hallucinations that fill every inch of space.
Discovered around 1800 by the bohemian physiologist Johannes Purkinje (1787-1869), who waved his hands in front of his closed eyes while looking at the sun, the flicker effect has captivated many over the years. Most notably was its resurgence in the 1960s, when Beat culture, psychedelics and new methods of expanding consciousness proved a fertile ground for further creative investigations into Purkinje’s phenomena.
Most influential, however, was the invention of the “Dreamachine” by artist Brion Gysin (1916-1986) and Ian Sommerville (1940-1976), an electronics technician and computer programmer. Their Dreamachine consisted of a cylinder with slits cut in the sides that rotated on a turntable. Lit from inside, it produced a stroboscopic light, creating a whirl of kaleidoscopic visions behind the onlooker’s closed eyes.
Horne says Munnik’s “Citadels” is a “new kind of dream machine,” creating a variety of ocular patterns over the span of a 12-minute sequence. It replicates, in a sense, what happens behind closed eyes, in which a layer of vivid patterns is instantly laid over reality.
The installation lets the observer investigate the endless complexities produced within the eye itself, in which geometric patterns unfold in unusual colors, fractals, pixels, shapes and dazzling forms.
Research into the effect, 200 years after Purkinje, suggests that these patterns arise because of interference in the signal from the eye to the primary visual cortex, spherically transformed according to the retinotopic map of the eye.
This transformation creates the typical structures seen in hallucinations. More importantly, these common structures are not only a construct of the mind, but also percepts with a physical origin in the inner architecture of the eye.
With this installation, space is transformed into various observatories for the eye’s inner structures and visual archetypes. It creates a space to meditate on the relation between sense, data, reality and the constructs of the mind.
“It’s a completely immersive, meditative experience,” Horne says. That is, if you can handle the strobe effects.”
Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.