LEAD Inc.’s collaboration with light architect Meeß-Olsohn.
By Mason Riddle
For architect and designer Ali Hashmeti and his collaborator Dr. Lars Meeß-Olsohn, fabric was the perfect material from which to construct their interactive installation “Dar Luz” for GLOW 2008, the third annual International Forum of Light in Art and Architecture in Eindhoven, Netherlands. “Our general interest in fabric is that it blurs the boundaries of architecture and fashion,” explains Heshmati. “Practically and economically one of the most viable materials, fabric is so flexible and versatile that we could use it and manage it to sculpt the form [in a way] we could not anticipate up front.”
Part public sculpture, part interactive performance piece, the installation incorporated both light and sound. In form, “Dar Luz,” one of the most visited of the 20 temporary light installations at GLOW, brought to mind the body of the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice and Wonderland.” Segmented and suggesting an undulating movement, the project took the form of enclosed catwalk-like structure approximately 22m long and 1.4 m wide. Visitors could enter from either end and pass through to the other side. The skeleton was constructed from ordinary lumber and fastened with screws. Over this armature Expandex was stretched with a 50% stretch in each direction. “Expandex’s ability to assume a unique form under tension was important,” states Heshmati. “But more important than that is its ability to work with light and color. Add to this the fact that this was an ephemeral installation, which had only 10 days to live. Expandex was also an economic and sustainable choice.” The end ramps of “Dar Luz” made the project wheelchair and bicycle accessible.
A self-exploratory, interactive project, “Dar Luz’s” environment was altered by a series of laser curtains whose presence morphed the visitor into the role of actor. Created with sharply defined edge conditions, these wall-like planes of light were placed in rhythmic intervals and sensors picked up the visitor’s movement. “As one traveled through the curtains, his or her mass was scanned in a continually animated line and triggered the lighting and sound systems which corresponded to the size and speed of the individual, changing the intensity and pulsation of the ambient light and sound,” explains Heshmati. “This direct interaction with the visitor/actor caused an immediate awareness of the visual and aural environment, tuning the person into this particular urban environment.”
The ambient light and its color were also altered by the same mechanism. As one entered, a slowly pulsating deep blue color changed to a dimmer solid pink-red color, contrasting with two green laser curtains and thus rendering the visitor more visible. The outline of people as they cut through the curtain resembled an animated CAT scan while the sound registered other qualities.
A dramatic, perception-shifting project, “Dar Luz” required the visitor to take the lead role. Citing Joseph Beuys’ notion of “social sculpture,” Hashmeti and Meeß-Olsohn consider “Dar Luz” public art in its pure form — a work that actively engages the public. That 150,000 people passed through it in 10 days, makes it a very public work of art, indeed.
And it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to realize “Dar Luz,” given the project constraints and time-frame, without employing fabric. “Its economy, practicality, immediacy, flexibility and an innate ability to relate to light and its coloration, volume and intensity, were reasons for our choice of fabric,” states Heshmati. “In short, we just like the feel of fabric. It is a wonderfully sensuous and sensual material that encourages the touch. It is a familiar material worth great exploration.”