Client: Centennial Project Space
Location: Santa Fe Plaza, NM, United States
Artwork budget: $60,000
Frank Golden, Photographer
Avu Dahl Designer
The Centennial Space Project produced by the State of NM, challenged artists to use a small room as a canvas. The room's dimensions were 12’ x 16’ with a 12’ high ceiling. Instead of placing objects inside the room, or typically painting on the walls, I decided to turn the skylight into a giant pinhole camera. Using a 7’ diameter drum suspended 3’ above the floor, images of the sky above, and anything that flew within the range of the three triangulated lenses were projected onto the surface of the drum in real time.
This project was the ultimate in site-specific commissioned art projects because the goal was to collaborate with the environment within the architectural confines of the space. By bringing the sky into the room via the lenses and ambient sun light, the room was turned inside out, and viewers were surprised to see the sky by looking down. Usually, we look up to see the heavens. Basically, the viewers’ inclination is reversed. Instead of a water well, it was a sky well. The effects were further enhanced by painting the walls black, which intensified the naturally lit images onto the drum (which here, is acting as a focal point for the lenses, and thus, a canvas for the sky and everything happening in it).
As the artist, I collaborated with photographer, Frank Golden, and a fashion designer, who was responsible for sewing the drapes within the plywood frames housing the lenses. When I created the idea, Frank was the expert who helped me figure out the logistics, all of which were completely experimental. The installation took two months from concept to implementation. There were several unique elements that provided enormous challenges. First, the room was on the second floor of a dedicated historic building on the Santa Fe Plaza. Second, the project required that we remove the glass from a historic skylight, which risked leakage into the room from monsoon rains, potentially damaging the entire installation and the room. Frank and I worked diligently together for two weeks fabricating the lenses and the gimbals holding them, building the wooden boxes that housed the lenses, and figuring out how to project the sharpest images into the environment. The complexity of the project called upon the expertise, creativity, and resourcefulness of each of us, every step of the way. It also required the openness of the State rep, Chuck Zimmer, who put his faith in us to produce a high-quality product.
The temporary installation was supposed to last three months, but due to popular demand, it was extended to six. Some day, I'd like to create a permanent space dedicated to this piece, this obscura.