Nearly two dozen black-and-white panels hang in the Hillestad Textiles Gallery, moving as people walk near them and in the breeze from the room’s air conditioning.
As the layered sheets of printed silk organza move, they trigger the moire effect -- a wavy, watery appearance of lines in the fabric. That creates a psychedelic op art effect up close.
From a distance, the multiple panels and four sculptural vessels dramatically fill the room, a powerful installation from Massachusetts-based textile artist Elin Noble.
“Vox Stellarum” grew out of a 2007 exhibition in which Noble was one of the artists invited to create a response to the copperplate engravings in “Physica sacra,” an early 18th-century book by Swiss natural scientist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer.
Done during an age of scientific discovery, the book and the image Noble responded to (on view in the gallery) teeter between the spiritual or mystic and the revelations of scientific observation -- a balance that is captured in Noble’s work.
Noble uses hand-dyeing and clamp-resist techniques to create the panels on the transparent fabric. In that process, the dyed fabric is placed between tightly clamped blocks of wood, then immersed in either a dye or discharge bath. A dye bath adds to the coloring of the fabric, a discharge bath removes the color on the exposed fabric while the fabric under the clamps remains unchanged.
A master of dyeing, Noble has a good idea of what patterns will emerge from the process. But there is still some chance, or accident left in the process.
The 23 panels, each made up of at least two, hang from ceiling to floor, smartly arranged by Noble, who hung the show in July, near walls and in broken lines and creating, on the east side of the gallery, a small room-like space where the viewer is surrounded by the wavering panels -- looking forward at one and seeing multiples to each side.
That makes for a captivating environment, a study in abstraction taken to a different, very fresh level by the moire effect.
Adding to the feel of a contained environment are the four sculptural pieces made of a piece of the dyed fabric that was formed around a basket that is placed inside a small metal base and strikingly lit from above.
The final element in “Vox Stellarum” is a collaboration between Noble and Lincoln artist Michael Burton, who traveled to Noble’s New Bedford, Massachusetts, studio to shoot a video of her work.
Projected on the west wall of the gallery, the video is made up of close-up views of the moire effect, taking the micro elements of the visual phenomenon and blowing them up to wall size. That adds another dimension to the installation -- something that can’t be seen by looking at the panels themselves either up close or from a distance.
The video, which is shown via two interlocked projectors near the gallery’s ceiling, is the most immediately seen aspect of the renovation of the Hillestad Gallery.
That reworking of the space, completed just before the opening of Noble’s show included a renovation of the gallery’s storage and staging room and, importantly, the removal of the carpet-like fabric that had covered the walls in the space.
The drywall that replaced the fabric allows the painting of the entire gallery, a requirement for effective installations.
And the gallery couldn’t have chosen a more effective installation for its reopening than “Vox Stellarum.” I spent the best part of an hour in the gallery becoming immersed in Noble’s created environment, captivated by the moving panels and the moving lines inside them.
“Vox Stellarum” is a certainty to be on my list of the best Lincoln art exhibitions of 2016 and is on view through Sept. 16 at the gallery on the second floor of the Home Economics Building on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus. Don’t miss it.