Whiteout to light Broadway this fall
For artist Erwin Redl, Whiteout is about contradictions. Technology and nature. Public and private spaces. Changing seasons. Abstraction and reality. “I’m interested in ephemeral media,” Redl says. “The stuff that’s invisible, you make it visible.”
Whiteout, a partnership between Oklahoma Contemporary and Madison Square Park Conservancy, opens Oct. 11 at Campbell Art Park, located at NW 11th and Broadway in downtown Oklahoma City. Whiteout is presented by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. Farmers Bank is a gold sponsor.
Approximately 550 transparent white spheres, each embedded with a discrete, white LED light, will be hung about one foot above the ground by a grid of wires suspended from poles. The orbs move with the wind and are animated in large-scale patterns, superimposing a virtual movement on top of the kinetic movement of the spheres.
Redl says he first used wind as a dominating force for an installation in 2013: Floating, in Silence at the Toledo Museum of Art. He hung nearly 400 glass balls from a wire grid in the courtyard of the museum, where they moved in response to air currents.
“There’s a scientific term for it,” he says. “It’s called emergence, when a lot of small little parts, like those glass balls for example, act in synch without an order from a commander or chief or conductor.”
A flock of birds is one example of emergence. “They fly in formation, but there’s no guy giving them instructions,” he says. He also cites as inspiration schooling fish and fireflies along a miles-long river delta in Thailand that flash in unison, on off, on off.
Though he first became known for light installations that play across the facades of buildings, many of Redl’s pieces are “directly going in this leader-less phenomenon.”
“Whiteout was inspired by this initial experience in 2013, but I also wanted to add my technology knowledge and tinkering obsession,” he says. “I juxtaposed, more or less, the actual movement of the floating balls, animated by the wind, with a virtual wave, that I can superimpose by programming the lights. So it’s always this kind of testing out the threshold between the natural and the virtual or the natural and the digital. Making the invisible visible is always the idea, testing out the threshold between the abstraction and corporal reality.”
Whiteout is the third Campbell Art Park exhibition, after Orly Genger’s Terra and Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud City, to be installed in anticipation of Oklahoma Contemporary’s new Arts Center. Under construction at NW 11th and Broadway, immediately east of Whiteout, the center will open in the fall of 2019.
“I think there’s a very beautiful, symbiotic relationship between this and the construction site,” Redl says.
Whiteout, originally installed in New York’s Madison Square Park, runs through March 31. The installation presents a distinct experience each time it is viewed, visually adapting alongside weather, air quality and time of day. By inviting visitors to engage with changes both outside and inside the work, Whiteout encourages us to consider light, perception and atmosphere from a new perspective.
“During the day, the poles, wires, and bulbs form an elegant, minimal sculpture of lines in space,” says Jennifer Scanlan, curatorial and exhibitions director at Oklahoma Contemporary. “As darkness falls, the lights become more evident. As they flash on and off, patterns emerge— the lights are no longer distinguishable as bulbs, becoming a series of movements coursing slowly or quickly up and down the park.”
Erwin Redl: Whiteout was commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, and was first exhibited at Mad. Sq. Art, the contemporary art program of the Madison Square Park Conservancy. How did it end up in Oklahoma?
“Artwork, and in particular large-scale installations, in electronic and digital media are an exciting and growing area in contemporary art right now,” Scanlan says. “At the same time, light is an element that has been attracting humans for millennia. So it was fortuitous that Madison Square Park Conservancy reached out to us as a venue for this amazing work of art by such an important international artist. We knew it would appeal to people in Oklahoma City on many levels.”
Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director of Mad. Sq. Art, wrote about Whiteout in a catalog for the NYC installation. “The dance of white LEDs is sequenced from north to south and back, from east to west, from darkness into light. It is mesmerizing choreography where visitors line the pathways of the Park, slow the frenetic pace of the New York City gait and linger as the seductive patterns of white sequencing beckon.”
Redl says the Oklahoma City version differs from the NYC one in many ways. In addition to being “a little bit smaller, more compact,” the space in Campbell Art Park is more open. Without the skyscrapers, without the sirens, without the hustle and bustle, “It provides a more intimate experience. It’s more tranquil here,” he says.
In New York, Whiteout was arranged in two gigantic rectangles, the sections of lights separated by an empty strip in the middle. “Here, the sections are interleaved, two rectangles that interleaf into each other like two gears. That makes it very intricate.”
Redl encourages visitors to fully embrace the installation. Going to any exhibition is “an act of engagement,” he says. But for Whiteout, “You don’t just stand, you explore. It’ll look different from Broadway. It will be very different from 11th Street or 12th Street. It looks different in the morning. People will come back, and every season, every squirrel, everything changes it.”
Scanlan agrees. “Light of course affects everything you see: colors and shapes. It also creates moods — think about the difference between sunrise and noon. Whiteout shifts according to the time of day. At nighttime, the individual bulbs almost vanish, and the lights become like pixels moving across a screen.”
A variety of programming will give visitors ways to engage with the installation and the artist. It starts with an artist talk at 21C Museum Hotel on Oct. 10; the Oct. 11 opening reception (beginning with a party at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, visitors will then process together to see the installation for the first time), and a series of evening Spotlight Talks and morning Start With Art sessions. Visitors can see all programs at oklahomacontemporary.org/whiteout.
“In celebration of 50 years of connecting people with causes they care about, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation is excited to help bring this world-class art installation to the community as the presenting sponsor,” says OCCF President Nancy Anthony. “We have a long partnership with Oklahoma Contemporary, and with Whiteout being installed right down the street from our office in Automobile Alley, it was a perfect fit for our 50th anniversary celebration.”
Additional sponsors include the Payne Family, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital, Fitzsimmons Architects, ITC Holdings Corp., Clements Food Foundation and Downtown OKC.
Redl hopes that Whiteout might expand visitors’ ideas of contemporary art. “It might be that kids or adults get inspired. You don’t have to paint to be an artist. You can just make these strange, kinetic contraptions and look at art in a different way.”