BEAM 2021 – Connections Made with Light in the Dark
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect corrections in both the spelling of B. Junzou Kuroishi’s name and his work, “Synaesthesium.”
On Friday, Oct. 8, Eugene’s Park Blocks were lit up with activity as the center transformed into an art gallery hosted by ArtCity beginning at 7 p.m.
Every year since 2018, ArtCity, a collective of local artists, has been hosting this pop-up art show, titled BEAM. During the mere three hour long event, artists showcased their incredible talent incorporating light with different forms of media while focusing on change.
The mission of ArtCity is to “create impact together” and BEAM 2021 did just that.This year, both new and returning artists offered their perspectives on topics ranging from the effects of the pandemic, climate change, mental health, and death.
Atypical from an art gallery, visitors were able to begin the night’s journey from any direction. A map highlighting the location of each artist was located on the corner of 8th and Oak near the fountain. This provided a good starting point.
At 7 p.m., the artists were completing their finishing touches just as the sun was setting. Many of the artists stayed throughout the evening, offering instructions on interactive exhibits or insights into their creations.
Artist John Van Strein has been a part of BEAM since its founding. He is an electrical and software engineer whose art “engages in dance/movement, consciousness, motion capture, immersive and responsive experiences, generative art, and data visualization.”
His “HyperCube,” one of the largest installments of the night, immersed viewers in both movement and light. Constructed of a rotating 7x7x7ft. cube, made from 63 steel-cut cubes hoisted into the air by a set of pulleys, three lights cast the shadow onto a white backdrop creating a three-dimensional feel.
Susan Detroy brought her version of Poi, a Maori culture form of dance using weighted tethers swung rhythmically, to this year’s event. She began dancing with light, drawing on her past as a dancer, as a way to deal with the pandemic. Her art focuses on connections with others using visual images to tell a story.
Mixed media artist Isaac Paris offered his viewers a glimpse into an endlessly hot and awkward world. Using silly putty and time lapse photography, he created an eight-minute-long video of melting faces titled “Climate Change the Musical.”
Paris got the idea for his movie while at his job working with special needs children as an art teacher for the Network Charter School. He said that, one afternoon, he had the children make faces with silly putty which they then stretched out past recognition. The way the faces “melted and transformed” was the spark for this short, hot film.
Some of the exhibits were crafted by multiple artists including an interactive mural created by artists Terry Holloway and David Placencia. Exploring the five stages of grief, the mural shifted through a series of projections timed at three minutes. Each projection represented a different stage thus changing the look, feel, and environment of the mural.
Placencia painted the background using gray, black, and silver tones. The projection series was created by Holloway. This was their first year working collaboratively at BEAM. Holloway said that events like these are his favorite for allowing him to explore his media outdoors and often in remote places.
James Sartor and Justin Kittell named their piece on the spot. “The Spirit Scope” was an interactive kaleidoscope constructed out of steel frame, mylar fabric, strobe lights, and technology using code they wrote.
The scope worked by sensing the viewer’s presence and would change depending on the amount (ie. one finger, one hand, or both) and duration of one’s physical presence.
The team said it only took two months to complete but, emotionally, it took one year. It was originally crafted to be displayed at the 2020 Oregon Country Fair but they never got a chance as OCF was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sartor and Kittell have worked together for a few years with the intention of making music, specifically the piano, visually expressive. At last year’s BEAM, the team exhibited a LED feather they coded to react to the piano.
Sartor said they created the feather because as a keyboardist he wanted to find a way to make the piano fun to watch from the audience’s perspective.
Sartor is a member of the local Eugene band, Lofty.
Other installations invited the artists in, giving people a chance for deep reflection, seemingly alone in the dark night.
Stepping out of the darkness into a lighted umbrella, artist Kelsei Leib offered her audience a moment isolated from the crowd. While this isolation felt too close to home, given the circumstances of the last year, under these illuminated, clear umbrellas feelings of peace and protection come to mind.
Once under the umbrella, the user listens to individual short stories about the last year by unknown speakers whose words were written inside of the umbrella as well.
It’s peace for a moment, from out of the dark and into the light, offering protection and company from the storm.
Cari Ingrassia, evoked images of sunlight reflecting on the river with a piece entitled “Flow.” A simple plaque expressed the artist’s vision to the audience before inviting guests to step inside the circles to take a quiet moment to reflect.
Other collaborative ensembles included silhouette dance performances by the Fermata Ballet Collective and dancers choreographed by Debrae Firehawk.
This year was the first year at BEAM for collective Open Eugene, who offered two pieces titled “Hope” and “Grief.”
Mark Davis, of Open Eugene, created the series of zig-zag screens used to project a film that was crowdsourced from the community. The collective weaved together different pieces of film sent in with images evoking both, hope and grief.
Next to the screens was a large fabric pyramid. Visitors were asked to write down words representing their own hope or grief while reflecting on the last few years but were also given permission to write freely.
Some wrote inspirational quotes. Others wrote down their personal grumbles. As the night went on, more words were added to the fabric. Open Eugene hoped that their piece represented hope for new connections, feeling that a lot was lost online, even with ZOOM meetings. The artists stated that “we cannot deny that we’ve all been through some change and lack connection.”
Open Eugene is a tech and civic based collective who work in partnership with White Bird Clinic to print a 92-page resource guide for the unhoused and local community called The Little Help Book.
Another installment offering isolation from the crowd also had the longest wait of the night. It was a piece created by light and sound artist B. Junzou Kuroishi.
“Synaesthesium” was created to explore the neural phenomenon—known as synesthesia—in a synthetic space, a way to examine the cross reactions in the brain to external stimuli,” said Kuroishi.
Kuroishi said that he doesn’t have synesthesia, but he wanted to know what it felt like to “hear a sound as blue.” So, he created a booth to immerse the user in a world made up of sound and color.
Inside a chamber enclosed with black fabric walls was a sound board, preprogrammed with synthesized music, attached to a color control panel. Pads controlled the sound heard through headphones and knobs controlled the light displayed inside on the white fabric walls. Any combination of sound and color, including tempo and volume, could be selected by the user.
If at any point it became too cacophonous inside the headphones, a stop button was programmed-in. It was definitely a sight to be heard.
ArtCity’s founder, Charly Swing, sat down for a few minutes during the event to discuss why she created ArtCity and this annual pop-up event.
Swing, a social sculptor, founded ArtCity as a place where artists are able to collaborate with the community to create impactful change. ArtCity is a non-profit and she said her goal with events like BEAM is “to bring together all kinds of people that might not otherwise stand next to each other.”
“Art attracts everyone, so you can have homeless people next to people living in multi-million dollar homes without knowing it, yet they are happy together,” said Swing.
Swing believes that art is powerful and that connection as a core of humanity is being neglected and so she wants to encourage artists and the community to work together. Her mission is to create living social sculptures that inspire and impact change. BEAM is one of those projects.
ArtCity is also working on other community projects.
Last year, Swing sent out a call to artists to create what she called a “culture raising” project. Similar to an Amish-style barn raising, the intent was to create a living social sculpture, working with a diverse group of artists to photograph individual cultures and blend them together, to raise culture.
Only one artist responded to the call. A Native photographer, TJ. So, the project became Raising Our Native American and Indigenous Communities through Culture Raising. The central idea was to photograph individuals belonging to the artist’s tribe, including those that TJ herself did not know.
Also, there were concerns about safety for the artists and community during the pandemic. So, Swing delivered the camera and lights to different people’s homes and from there TJ gave direction over ZOOM to those taking the portraits.
Once all the photos were complete, Swing and TJ blended the faces together, representing young and old. Children’s faces were blended with their parents, so one half of the image is of a child and the other half is of a parent. These photos were printed onto twenty five 4x8ft. yard signs which were then cut into 33 slates. The slates were then woven into 100ft. of fence along the new Riverfront Project.
Swing said her favorite part of this “raising culture” project was hearing what TJ’s mother had to say about it. Included in the photos is a blended portrait of TJ and her mother. Swing said that through the process the mom reported to her that “she learned about the power of art, it’s all the little pieces that make the whole.”
The Culture Raising piece is not yet open to the public but it will be unveiled in November 2021 upon completion of the Riverfront Project. It is a temporary project that will be removed after 3-5 years. Once the fence is removed, the slats will be weaved into vessels which will be auctioned as part of a fundraiser to fund future public art by local Native American and Indigenous artists.
BEAM 2021 had a total of 18 pieces from individual artists or collectives and the Swing said this year’s attendance was the largest it’s been. If you missed it, check out their website to see videos of past events or check them out at ArtCity Studios on Broadway.