This post comes to us from Sarah Schaller, Curatorial Intern.
Installation artist Soo Sunny Park has always been intrigued by the space between the physical and imaginary worlds. Her work consistently explores that liminal, or in-between, space with her use of light and shadow. The New Britain Museum of American Art is excited to exhibit her new installation Boundary Conditions in the LeWitt staircase.
Walking towards the staircase on the lower level, you see an enormous sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Iridescent strips of neon green, yellow, blue, grey, and clear Plexiglas are woven through a thin wire grid. The grids gracefully twist through the air into a Mobius shape. The light from both the windows and galleries flow through the form like a prism, refracting and reflecting light and casting intricate shadows onto the surrounding walls. The time of day and weather create subtle changes in the shadows, moving them across the wall as time passes. A closer look at the walls reveals shadow-like drawings that mimic the shadows cast by the sculpture.Park has been using light as a sculptural material in many recent works. Her installation Unwoven Light at Rice Gallery in Texas in 2013 exhibited hanging twisted chain-link fence structures filled with iridescent Plexiglas cutouts.
The light from the windows and the galleries flowed through the cutouts and created a rainbow of colors throughout the room. Viewers were able to walk underneath the sculptures and experience the effect of the light. Her 2011 collaboration with sound artist and composer Spencer Topel Capturing Resonance used the same radiant sculpture and light design, but featured motion sensors that would activate sound as a viewer walked through the space. Sounds of soft, layered instrumental chords reflected the visual radiance of the space.
A recurring theme in her work is the concept of liminal space, or the threshold or space between two places. Park takes it to another level and considers the space between binary opposites: light and shadow, natural and artificial, real and imaginary, 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional. The physical space between the light and the shadow is the woven sculpture in the gallery. The natural light and artificial light mix together in the sculpture, removing any indication of its original source when it is cast onto the walls. She uses light and 3-dimensional materials, transforming them into 2-dimensional shadows and painted drawings on the walls. The idea of placing this installation on a staircase between two floors continues this theme of “space between spaces”.
That threshold between the real and the imaginary is the most intriguing. You are physically in the gallery, looking at the installation, but you are also transcended into an imaginary world that the artist has created. You are in two places at once, but also in the space between the two. The shadows on the wall explore this concept as well. Park paints with charcoal and graphite to create her own shadows, and then blurs the line between her drawings and the real shadows with a retro-reflective glass-bead paint.
As you move through the LeWitt staircase, each viewpoint offers a different experience. When I stand directly underneath the sculpture, I am surrounded by a mass of Plexiglas and wire. I am able see the drawings on the wall, but still cannot distinguish between the real shadows and what the artist has created. I also now question which “shadow” should be considered “real”: the immovable, physical paintings on the wall? Or the ever-changing shadow from the light that seems to escape the gallery as time passes?
From the second floor, the entirety of Boundary Conditions is in full view. The shiny, glowing plastic reflects the natural light and the artificial lights from all angles. I am removed from the imaginary world and can view the work from a distance. The shadows on the wall look believable; from that distance there is no way to tell what is real and what imaginary. The boundary between the two realms has been successfully blurred.
The installation will be up for at least two years. Join us for the opening reception on Sunday, March 9th from 2:00-3:30pm and meet the artist after her remarks at 2:30pm.