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The artist Erwin Redl has always thought about how light impacts space. That relationship has been seen in many of Redl’s past works, highlighted in installations like Matrix VI, Fade I, and Nocturnal Flow. Most recently, we see its interaction in Madison Square Park with the installation Whiteout (on view through March 25). The installation is comprised of over 900 lights spheres individually suspended in the air, synchronizing in light waves when reactive to the movement of air.
“Whiteout has become a phenomenon in New York City,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Senior Curator for the Madison Square Park Conservancy. “Visitors to Madison Square Park have been fascinated by the work’s geometric restraint and captivated by its undulating animation across the Oval Lawn.”
To learn more about Whiteout, how light impacts space, and his very first creative project, we caught up with Redl.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your installation, Whiteout, and your continued involvement with Madison Square Park.
ERWIN REDL: I’ve worked on several, radically different proposals for Madison Square Park since early 2015. The project Whiteout, which opened in November 2017, is part of my recent series of works investigating emergence, the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of simple interactions. As for all of my installations the most important parameter is site specificity. In the case of Madison Square Park, I utilize the wind as the dominant ephemeral force which forms the dynamism of the kinetic installation.
Whiteout, with 900 suspended light spheres triggered by the movement of air, is extremely tied into every detail of the site. From the topology of the location to the movement of people within and the traffic outside the park, everything is based on constant change, either naturally throughout the seasons or the man-made perpetual urban dynamism. The installation pushes this kinetic aspect to a perplexing extreme by presenting the main aesthetic component, the 900 suspended light spheres, in constant motion. Since the motion is caused by the movement of air through the park, this flow is very organic, similar to a school of fish or a flock of birds. It therefore simultaneously reaches a unique hypnotic stasis with a very calming effect. The light spheres are programmed to let large-scale wave patterns emerge throughout the installation. The natural kinetic movement of the spheres merges with the virtual layer of the animated lights. The physicality of the undulating spheres in conjunction with the abstract animations of their embedded white lights allows the public to explore a new, hybrid reality in this urban setting.
WW: What was your very first piece of art?
ER: It was the multimedia performance piece Walztanz 60 in 1989 with two dancers, a Renaissance recorder ensemble, an avant-garde rock band, and a light installation. The German title translates to “Waltzing 60.” The performance is centered around two waltz dancers whose movement I’ve extremely slowed down. It took them 60 minutes to “slow dance” trough the center of a Gothic church in Krems, Austria.
WW: What about land art or light art intrigues you?
ER: Land art and Light art fundamentally changed what art can achieve and how art is perceived. Land art, in contrast to landscape, design staged interventions in mostly remote environments either with simple poetic gestures or massive and expansive sculptural elements. Those pieces are connected to very archaic art, religious, and often mystic practices which trigger very different responses than any traditional Western art form. Light art does something similarly radical by focusing on the primary aspect of visual perception, which is light itself. In this phenomenological endeavor, Light art to a large degree, circumvents our linguistic/verbal perception of art. Therefore this art form is very closely related to music and also radically expanded the notion of how art relates to our senses.
WW: How do you feel light impacts a space?
ER: Light and space are closely linked in an almost parasitic relationship. Light requires space to unfold. Space requires light to be perceived visually. This is why Light art is often referred to as Light and Space. It explores the fundamentals of perception both from an ephemeral point of view (light) and a corporeal point of view (space). Light affects space on a deeply emotional, pre-verbal level. The perceived space, in conjunction with the specific parameters of that space, then affects the visitors on the same profoundly emotional level. Light and space are weaving a perpetual, perceptual counterpoint.