Wayne Garrett and Caitlind r.c. Brown had a problem to solve.
They were commissioned to make a sculpture for the 2012 Nuit Blanche, an art festival that people come to see in the dark in their hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
"What do you do in the darkness that people will come and see, that people would be attracted to?" Brown says.
You could say there was a cloud hanging over them. Then a light bulb went on, almost literally.
They knew they wanted to create a cloud, but they didn't know what they wanted to make it out of. Then, a material occurred to them: the humble light bulb.
"It felt like it would be a great diffusion layer," Brown says. "Also, this thing happens when you work with a material that is already made: Somebody already put billions of dollars into developing this technology that diffuses light in a beautiful way. Why not take advantage of that as a leaping-off point?"
Thus was born Cloud, their first light bulb sculpture made with a surface of bulbs and lights inside that visitors could turn on and off by pulling cables to give the sculpture different looks. It was a hit and led to projects in Moscow, Chicago and now Lexington.
In the welding shop at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Brown, Garrett and a team of students and volunteers have been working to create the duo's latest light bulb vision, to be displayed in Triangle Park from Feb. 21 to March 31.
The actual form of the sculpture is under wraps, but we can say it is different from the couple's other light sculptures in form and interaction.
It will be unveiled Saturday night at the Lexington Art League's annual Art Ball.
That will be the kickoff to Luminosity, the Art League's multivenue exhibit of light art that is taking the place of the annual Nude exhibit. Last fall, the Art League announced it was retiring the Nude show and other standards including the Fourth Friday parties — which leaders thought had run their course — so they could focus on new projects that were more community-oriented.
Luminosity actually started getting the community involved last fall with a citywide light bulb drive that collected more than 5,000 bulbs to be used in Brown and Garrett's sculpture and other projects. In addition to the Triangle Park sculpture, the Art League will present a show of indoor light art at its Loudoun House gallery, with special evening hours so the audience may see the full effect. That exhibit will open Feb. 28.
Welding students help
Back at BCTC, students in the metal-working program were getting an inside look at how Brown and Garrett's sculpture was being created and a new perspective on how the mechanical skills they are learning may be used.
"I was just taking welding," William James Posey said as he applied hot glue to the base of a bulb he then placed on the chicken wire frame of a portion of the sculpture. "I thought this was a really awesome idea. Some people don't think welding can be art, but you look at some of the stuff they've done, and it's incredible. I wanted to be part of it."
Shawn Gannon, faculty instructor in BCTC's welding technology department, says he first worked with the Art League to build pieces for the Woodland Art Fair. Shortly after that, the group told him about the project. Leaders asked whether he could help and he had a space big enough to make Brown and Garrett's work.
"I said, 'I can accommodate that,' and they gave me a rough sketch of some of the things they had done in the past and asked if our students could help fabricate that," Gannon says. "So many of the students at BCTC are underestimated in their crafts and talents in the fields they pursue. I thought art would be a great vehicle to show that talent."
He says a key was helping create a sturdy structure for the bulbs.
"The challenge has been to see how little metal we can put in to supporting the greatest structure," Gannon says. "It really is a feat of engineering and trial and error. We want the light bulbs to be the center of attention, so we don't want to surround that with a lot of bulky metal framing.
"The second challenge is, any time you have something that delicate on the outside, you want something very strong on the inside to support it."
Touching is encouraged
Garrett and Brown say having the help of the BCTC students and faculty has been a treat while they work on the LAL project.
"Shop space is really hard to find as an artist," Brown says. "So to have access to this really incredible shop space and this base of knowledge has been wonderful."
The couple say they like the Triangle Park site for the sculpture because it isn't just central to the city; it will be at a point where all into and in the park will lead to it, standing in the same place where the city Christmas tree stands.
They say they hope Central Kentuckians will come to see it and interact with it.
"We make our art so people will touch it, so they'll feel like they're a part of it," Brown says. "It isn't complete until they are standing under it, working with it and making it happen."