In the telling, “Night Forms” at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton sounds hokey and maybe even a little disrespectful. Projecting images on existing artwork? After dark? That’s the sort of sensation a brand manager might chase, isn’t it? — turning a public space into a giant immersive advertisement or putting a logo on the head of a bust of Abraham Lincoln. Is it wise for an artistic institution distinguished by its grace to indulge in a practice associated with theme parks?
As it turns out, it is.
“Night Forms” is projection done the Grounds for Sculpture way. It’s a smart, frequently hypnotic show that highlights the institution’s impressive collection and keeps its balance while also providing a funhouse rush. It also feels seasonal — something like driving around a decorated and fully electrified neighborhood on a holiday evening. On this trip, you’re not in a car. You’re on foot, treading the outdoor paths and taking in the radiant, sonically enhanced attractions scattered around the Grounds.
Will that be cold? Possibly. But you might be too mesmerized to notice.
The 13 pieces in “Night Forms” are like stones set in a jeweled bracelet. They’re dazzling on their own, but best understood as components of a single continuous artwork. This exhibition has a guiding spirit, accomplished illusionist and visual prankster: Ricardo Rivera of the Philadelphia-based Klip Collective, maestro of projection mapping. With uncanny precision, Rivera gets his projectors to fit the statues he’s illuminating. He can alter the appearance of their texture and saturate their surfaces with electronic color. Sometimes you’ll swear that he’s making the statues move.
Darkness is his accomplice. Long nighttime shadows assist, too.
Rivera is helped immensely by the statues themselves, many of which seem to quiver with paleolithic weirdness even in broad daylight. But mostly, he follows his own proclivities, honed by years spent VJing at raves and electronic musical performances. To his credit, he avoids most of the over-the-top projection mapping clichés of EDM festivals — though the big glow sticks he’s hung from the branches wouldn’t have been out of place at Electric Daisy or Creamfields. Instead, he gets the sonic and visual effects to cooperate. A tremor in a soundscape may prompt a rush of light across the trees. A swell of synthesized sound may be accompanied by a wave of color on a stony surface. The gentle pulse of ambient music is paralleled by the dimming and brightening of hundreds of lights, until the entire park seems like it’s breathing in and out.
Like many visual artists who have gotten their education in the dance clubs, Rivera and Klip Collective are drawn to computer glitches, test pattern colors and glowing, laser-like lines. Sometimes, he will trade in easy ironies. For instance, he makes “Eolith,” Isaac Witkin’s stack of impassive granite slabs, bleed an electric rainbow across an expanse of grass. Masayuki Koorida’s mute, bulbous “Memory” comes alive as a stack of spinning discs and rotating spheres. What was once secretive and monochromatic becomes a beacon of pixel-saturated color.
But mostly, Rivera follows his aesthetic back in time to its most satisfying, crowd-pleasing terminus: classic video games.
Echoes of the early Atari catalog carom all over Grounds for Sculpture. Those with long memories and deep software collections will be reminded of Breakout, Space Invaders, Defender, Tempest, Asteroids and, especially, Tron, a work of filmed entertainment that plunged viewers into the bowels of a mainframe. Klip Collective turns “Dorion — Bruce Beasley’s giant, angular, insect-like sculpture in stainless steel — into something more like a lunar lander, and bathes it in the luminous color of the quarter-operated arcade machine. By daytime, Carlos Dorrien’s “The Nine Muses” is a clutch of human-sized statues and obelisks arranged on a stone dais in a manner suggestive of Pompeii and Greek ruins. Rivera’s projectors convert these silent watchers into electrified game pieces on a glowing chessboard. You’re encouraged to step between them, even as the squares beneath your feet shift, blink, swap positions and dissolve into darkness.
Should you clear the board and move on to the next stage, you may find yourself enmeshed in the semicircles of blocks that surround Michelle Post’s satirical busts of “The Oligarchs.” Rivera’s team makes these as vivid as flat-panel monitors, and as two-dimensionally kinetic as Tetris pieces.
A few more paces along the path, you will find geometric shapes that appear to hover in midair, drawn in space in bright, searing lines reminiscent of old-school vector graphics.
These are smiling, winking, nostalgic gestures from a groundbreaking projectionist with the soul of a mainstream entertainer. But as he leads you down wooded paths in search of luminous wonder, Rivera also has something sly to say about Grounds for Sculpture and arts spaces like it. He is pointing out the ways in which the outdoor park already feels like a live-action adventure game. The Grounds invites visitors to wander a maze of intersecting paths and encounter strange, beautiful and occasionally monstrous things. Klip Collective has recognized this, and augmented it with a visual and auditory display designed to generate some seriously altered states. Grounds curators have played along by lighting up parts of the park that Rivera’s projector beams don’t touch, like Gloria Vanderbilt’s creepy fish tank filled with cellophane and doll parts.
But Fright Night this is not. It is a family-friendly amble through an enchanted wood — one made more magical through the power of concentrated light.
Those familiar with Grounds for Sculpture may recognize that this is the third time Klip Collective has joined forces with the park for a “Night Forms” show. They may even recognize a few of these attractions from earlier versions of “Night Forms.” I doubt very much that will deter them from a return visit, especially since Grounds for Sculpture has declared this the last in the “Night Forms” series.
The show opens on Nov. 24, right after Thanksgiving, and it will burn on in the Hamilton night until April 7. Then Ricardo Rivera will pack up the projectors and find somewhere else to make his magic.
For information, visit groundsforsculpture.org.
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