The myth of the artist as a lone genius, hunched over a masterpiece-in-progress, toiling away in isolation, is a persistent one. Despite decades of postmodern theory attempting to deconstruct this bohemian fantasy, it haunts our collective imaginary.
In reality, artists are members of communities, engaging in and responding to the world around them. The Art & History Museums of Maitland's Art Center, founded by American artist and architect André Smith in 1937, provides an opportunity for the greater Orlando community to engage with local and nationally known artists on-site, providing a peek into the processes of working artists and lifting the veil of mystery on creative practices. Art31 pays homage to the history of the center's founding, and celebrates experimentation, collaboration and community.
Now in its fourth year, Art31 is a monthlong series of events and exhibitions showcasing projects artists have been working on at the A&H, as well as other community events. This year's programming is centered around the exhibition Borrowed Light, with Stephen Knapp's luminous light paintings as a driving force. Featured installations explore interactivity and light-as-art, with newly created site-specific work by Stephen Knapp, 2016 A&H artist-in-residence Deanna Morse, Ryan Buyssens and Nathan Selikoff, as well as an immersive, traveling pop-up installation, the Talking Room, by C.R. Barnett.
Buyssens and Selikoff, both based in Orlando, create work that is responsive to viewers' presence and the environment, using processes based in engineering and technology with elements of interactivity and viewer participation.
Buyssens says of his Art31 contribution, Chromactive: An Interactive Color Experience, "The community will become participants in the piece. Once it's up, it isn't complete or fulfilled until people are interacting with it. It isn't performance, but becomes participatory. As people affect its sensors, it will change and respond to their presence and placement in the room. They can affect its movements and changes in light."
Buyssens describes his piece for Borrowed Light as highly experimental and site-specific. He explains that the work was inspired by conversations with the organizers and other artists about how light can affect mood and emotion, and how movement of reflective objects can create an immersive experience and alter a space.
Selikoff also employs interactivity, math and coding in his interdisciplinary practice. His audiovisual installation, Audiograph, appeared last year at Art in Odd Places Orlando, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Lumen Prize. Using software that responds to sounds in the environment, the piece generates stunning visualizations based on these sounds which are then projected onto the chosen site, creating a synesthetic effect enabling viewers to "see" sounds.
The installation provides a different experience in each of its iterations in different locations. Selikoff says, "When I create interactive installations, I like to find a balance between play and beauty and mystery. An indication to me that I've created something successful is that both children and adults can interact with it."
Knapp's immersive light paintings are crafted using white light and treated glass to create a playful and colorful encounter for viewers, differing with each iteration. The small pieces of glass are mounted on surfaces at precise angles and lights are carefully positioned to either bounce off or shine through, refracting and reflecting in very intentional compositions of brightly hued beams.
Deanna Morse's time-lapse video works, which explore the natural light of the Maitland campus, were created during her residency at Maitland Art Center. C.R. Barnett's Talking Room is a traveling component of the Art31 experience, engaging the community through pop-up installations and events around Orlando.
Other opportunities to interact with Art31 and Borrowed Light this month include a few after-dark events (the light installations are at their best in low light). There's Culture Pop, the Art31 kickoff celebration and the traditional opening party of most Art & History Museums – Maitland exhibitions. Taking place at the Maitland Art Center from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, March 3, Culture Pop shows off all the works to their best advantage in a setting bolstered with literary readings, music, food and cocktails.
Night Light (7-9 p.m. Thursday, March 23) features Nathan Selikoff's Audiograph and a performance of improvised music and motion graphics by Modular Art Collective at the Maitland Art Center. The concluding event, Light Play (6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, March 31) features a special performance by Voci Dance as well as open galleries and an appearance by Barnett's Talking Room.
Additionally, there's an artist critique and conversation with the director of Seton Hall University's Walsh Gallery, Jeanne Brasile, from 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, at the Maitland Art Center, as well as curator-led tours of the exhibition weekly on Tuesdays at noon through March 28.
Art31 events focus on participation, engagement and community. This year's theme, light, is particularly apropos to these missions. Light makes the world visible to our human eyes. It is a metaphor for understanding, for clarity, for the moment the unknown becomes known. An artist manipulating light is toying with the very possibility of visual perception, providing new modes of seeing.