In the book of Genesis, God says “Let there be light.” In Omaha, Kaneko says “Let there be ‘light.’”
Staffers at the Kaneko arts and culture nonprofit and a creative council brought together elements from all over the world for "light," an exhibit that examines the many facets of light, both natural and artificial.
“Our creative council has been working on a theme that would appeal to the senses for over two years,” Kaneko Executive Director Chris Hochstetler said. “Initially, the discussion centered on an exhibition that would be a broader exploration of all the senses, and then the conversation refined more to focus on how light and the absence of light can really change our perceptions completely. The same object becomes something completely different.”
The immersive experience explores the art and science of light through various mediums. And participating artists approach light in different ways, from the simplicity of a spotlight shown through a glass bowl to a huge Lite Brite to astrophotography to a miniature version of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Diocles laser.
“(We) felt that the sensory experience of light is often taken for granted ... has become mundane,” Hochstetler said. “It has moved from a place in history where entire cultures worshiped light for its life-giving properties to the normalcy of flipping a wall switch.
“The creative council felt that a deep exhibition of light could return some of the mystery and sensorial wonder to it.”
One of the things that make this exhibit unique is that it’s free. Kaneko is located at 1111 Jones St., in three turn-of-the-century warehouses in Omaha’s Old Market.
The wide-open space in the warehouses is a perfect setting for “TRIPH,” a light-and-sound experience developed by Circus Family in Amsterdam. The installation has large geometric forms that change color and gradient as you move around and through them. The audio also intensifies with nearby motion.
“The piece really communicates with people as a living and breathing thing,” Hochstetler said. The artists “have created a sensory experience that allows people to move beyond seeing the light, but rather to ‘feel’ the light.”
That was evident during my visit, when a young girl, maybe 8 to 10 years old, spent about 10 minutes checking out the piece. She would stop at every element and watch as the colors changed, then move on to elicit another change.
One of the most-intriguing exhibits fits in a 7-by-7-foot space. No more than five people at a time can go into Refik Anadol’s “Infinity Room,” which has mirrors on the floor and ceiling. You’re surrounded by kaleidoscopic light patterns projected onto the black walls and floor by high-powered Epson projectors.
The light patterns, aided by the mirrors, blur the boundaries of reality. Looking up or down, it appears the room goes on forever. It’s a very disconcerting feeling. In fact, people with light sensitivities or who are prone to seizures are warned about the intense stimulation effects.
Each visit to the “Infinity Room” lasts 4 minutes. The loop of projected designs is 12 minutes, so you can visit the room multiple times to get the full effect. Some visualizations are more intense than others, but all are stunning. My bright-pink shirt really showed up among the black and white, and a woman with a red coat looked, at one time, like a rose.
Two of Adam Belt’s pieces show how you can manipulate light into an optical illusion. They consist of pieces of wood, only 5 inches long or so, placed in a pattern, and then a mirror is put on the back and a two-way mirror on the front. Looking at the pieces, it appears that the “tunnel” goes on forever.
In addition to the art aspect, "light" also addresses the issue of light pollution. “SKYGLOW” is a project by Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan to make people aware that in the not-too-distant future, there no longer will be any more true night sky in the United States. The two men spent three years and used 3 million photos to put together a time-lapse of the night sky. It's a spectacular example of astrophotography.
One would think the proliferation of light pollution is just a result of modernization. But having less and less night sky is a major threat, affecting humans and animals and disrupting ecosystems.
The Kaneko exhibit is for people of all ages, and Jason Webb's polyhedral Lite Brite appeals to more than just kids. The black board with back-lit holes is about 6 feet long and 3 feet tall. Unlike the original Lite Brite, the colored pegs for this installation are easy to pick up and place in the holes, being about the size of your little finger. It was interesting to see the designs people made.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln was a surprising part of the exhibit. I was not aware UNL had an Extreme Light Laboratory, let alone the world’s highest-powered laser. The Diocles laser has the brightness of 1 billion suns. Potential uses could be for X-rays, in semiconductor technology and detecting threats at security checkpoints.
The second floor of the Kaneko features exhibits by Taylor Dean Harrison, San Francisco-based art collective FoldHaus and Nebraska glass artist Corey Broman.
Harrison’s piece, “Enunciation,” is a blend of steel, wood and light that gives the appearance of stained glass. It’s a cocoon-like structure intended for contemplation and meditation. Like “TRIPH,” the panels change color, thanks to thousands of LEDs.
FoldHaus contributed “Blumen Lumen,” which, according to Kaneko marketing and communications manager Kelsey Scofield, was part of a previous Kaneko exhibit. This time, the 10 large origami flowers made of corrugated polypropylene don’t expand and contract, but merely change color.
With all the science and technical aspects of the other installations, Broman’s contributions are simple. He looks at how light and shadow are projected through blown-glass sculptures.
In preparing for the exhibit, Kaneko needed additional wiring. Miller Electric of Omaha put in more than a mile and a half of new power and computer lines, and Omaha’s Echo Systems redid the buildings' entire lighting to shift from a typical art gallery lighting scheme to one that would use low-voltage LEDs and allow the pieces themselves to really be the light sources, Hochstetler said.
I’ve seen some neat light shows recently, and the Kaneko one is among the best, on par with the Nebraska sesquicentennial laser and fireworks show at the Capitol and Lauritzen Gardens Aglow, and just behind nature’s stunning show — last August’s solar eclipse.