A new exhibit at the University of Kentucky Art Museum tests spacial dimensions and structure, and installing it was sometimes as complicated as it sounds.
UK architecture professor Mike McKay created the art piece, “Singularities,” that pushes the limits of what structure can do. He describes the piece, which goes on display Saturday, as a “spacial kaleidoscope,” since the piece shows the viewer different images as the viewer moves around it.
About three years ago, McKay began research on how illusion and vision affect space and can be manipulated. He has worked on “Singularities,” a project between the UK College of Design and the UK Art Museum, for a year and began seriously developing this project during his time as a MacDowell Colony fellow. The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire provides “inspiring environments” to artists so they may create enduring works of art, according to the colony’s website.
McKay believes this is one of the first times that three-dimensional illusions and architecture have combined. He knows that some sculptors and many 2-D artists have experimented with illusion and space and how they can interact with one another.
“I wanted to use this technique as a way investigate how we move through space, how we see space, how we experience space,” McKay said.
“Singularities” has two vantage points, McKay said. When a viewer stands a one point, he or she will see a black floating box. At the other point, the viewer will see an gold foil archway figure. Some walls and other figures are painted as well, but the viewer will not see them unless they move from the vantage points. The entire piece is anchored on a concrete wall that was already built at the art museum.
McKay said he and his team spent about eight hours a day on weekdays working on “Singularities” and 10 hours a day during the weekend. The project has had a lot of “unknowns” and had to be reworked a few times, he said, because it has not been done before.
He first used a computer program to estimate the dimensions of the project. Then he had the pieces of the projects fabricated.
One problem McKay encountered the week before the exhibit opened was that a piece near the gold archway needed an extra anchor to keep the archway from warping. During the process, McKay used a piece of wood to hold the archway up and planned to replace the wood with a small triangular wall.
Another problem the team experienced was that a wall between the archway and box figures was too heavy after it was fabricated. In the gallery, the team had to cut the wall almost in half. McKay said the fix took almost two hours to implement.
Five current and former UK architecture students worked on the project, McKay said. One of the students, Owen Sadrzadeh, who graduated last May, said all of the steps he worked on in “Singularities” were educational and interesting.
Sadrzadeh said there have “been so many problems … so we (the fabrication team) have to think together to come up with strategies.”
McKay also worked on the project with Paul Masterson, who was the lead fabricator. McKay said “Singularities” would not be possible without the input from Masterson and the students.
Masterson began working at UK in the fall of 2016 and started discussions with McKay for his project in November.
“I’ve done art installation in the past, but this is definitely a big one,” Masterson said.
When the exhibit ends, McKay is not sure what he is going to do with “Singularities.” He hopes the piece is published and another institution asks to display it, or commissions him to make something similar.
“The reality is,” McKay said, “all I need is a wall.”
If you go
When: Jan. 28-Apr. 23
Where: UK Art Museum in the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.
In addition to “Singularities,” the University of Kentucky Art Museum has opened several other exhibits for the new semester.
▪ “Face Value: Photographs by Doris Ulmann & Andy Warhol” — Portraits by the photographers who worked in different parts of the 20th century. (opens Saturday)
▪ “The Gaines Challenge Fund” — Works acquired through a 1981 $250,000 challenge grant by horseman, collector and philanthropist John Gaines.
▪ “Embodied” — Works from the museum’s permanent collection portraying the human form.
▪ “Still Lifes” — An exhibit from the permanent collection showing a variety of approaches to still life images.
▪ “Cityscapes” — A look at portrayals of a number of cities, including several artists’ approaches to Lexington.