Client: U.S. Forest Service
Location: Las Vegas, NV, United States
Completion date: 2015
Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway
U.S. Park Service, Spring Mountain Visitors Gateway, Mt. Charleston, NV
To the unaided eye, the 73′ long, made up of 25 panels 30″ tall, Plexiglas profile view of the mountain range looks like etched glass, but viewed through polarizing filter such as polarized sunglasses, it bursts into a full color, realistic depiction of the flora and fauna in the environment. Large standing polarizing viewers are placed in the space which are another way to view the interactive artwork and hand-held viewers are available, handed out by the staff. Visitors interact with the art, revealing it by looking through the filters.
Located in the mountains 45 minutes from Las Vegas, Nevada, the facility is a visitor center intended as an educational resource as well as an experiential escape from the harsh desert environment in the valley below. The goal was to create an interactive work of art which is a metaphor for the experience of exploring and discovering hidden animals and plants in this National Forest. Austine spent months researching the biome and consulting with biologists to be sure her design was accurate. She considered the visitor a participant in creating the art, because the experience of seeing a blank "canvas" suddenly turn into a complex tableau of life and color is a reminder that we can only discover what is there if we look, watch and pay attention.
For almost 50 years, Austine and her studio have been working in this medium which she developed and named Polage art. The work is made with light, as there are no pigments in the materials, only Polarizing filter and clear, colorless cellulose sheets. The studio has several assistants, including Austine's husband and two daughters who collaborated with her on this project. After many months of research and design, the fabrication of the artwork consisted of the laborious process of cutting thousands of pieces of varying thicknesses of clear, colorless cellulose and laminating them to the panels according to the drawings. We wear polarized sunglasses to be able to see the "invisible" art while working on it.
This work is intended to bring out the "Oh Wow!" factor of discovering something that you have never seen before. It is a thrill that we hope the visitor compares to the thrill of learning about an animal or plant indigenous to the beautiful desert mountain range at the site of this installation.