Review: Installations at Wood Street Galleries combine light and movement
Erwin Redl's solo exhibit “Structures of Time and Space,” on display at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Wood Street Galleries, Downtown, is only composed of two pieces, but oh, what pieces they are.
They are two very different installations from very different periods of Redl's career:
• “Speed Shift,” an LED installation with sound on the third floor, was conceived in 2006. It has been shown in different versions in the United States, Canada, Spain and the Ukraine.
• “Twists and Turns,” a laser installation on the second floor, was conceived in 2012 and has never been exhibited before.
Born in 1963 in Gföhl, Austria, Redl attended a polytechnic high school near Vienna with a focus on furniture making, interior design and architecture. After high school, he studied electronic music and composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, receiving a bachelor's degree in composition in 1990 and one in electronic music in 1991.
But in 1993, he went to New York on a Fulbright stipend to study computer art at the School of Visual Arts. While in New York, he says, “I acquired a lot of the technical knowledge by working at several New York start-ups, designing and programming interactive custom electronics after my graduate studies.”
After completing his studies with a Master of Fine Arts in 1995, Redl focused exclusively on computer installations. Sculptural objects were always kept at a minimum.
But he became disenchanted with the context in which his work was shown — mostly electronic art festivals and museum shows focused on the computer as medium.
Then, in 1997, after seeing the work of Fred Sandback, a minimalist conceptual-based sculptor known primarily for his sculptures made from lengths of colored yarn, Redl's work changed dramatically.
“Sandback's installations combined all the elements I was interested in — pure structure, spatial abstraction, immateriality, etc.,” Redl says. “His work accomplished what I had previously only seen in the virtual realm of computer graphics, a perfect combination of formal clarity with a subtle sensuality emphasizing the inherent corporeality of space.”
Redl abandoned computers and monitors as presentation tools and started to string bare wires from floor to ceiling and attached tiny LEDs in grid patterns to the wires.
Single-color LEDs exclusively emit a single-light frequency. RGB LEDs combine the three frequencies of red, green and blue in one fixture. Those precisely tuned color frequencies make LEDs perfectly suited to exemplify the structural and proportional thinking Redl formulated in his theory “Parallel Media.” In that work, he corresponds sound frequencies to color frequencies and uses these structural parameters in the development of his installations incorporating light and sound.
“My work uses the aesthetics of LED technology with its single-point light source as a reference to the computer pixel and as the physical link between virtual and real space,” Redl says.
Both installations have a sense of calm and tranquility that is crucial in Redl's work. Despite his abstract aesthetic language and the artificiality of the medium, he says the sensuality as well as corporeality of the created space is important to him.
For example, in “Twists and Turns,” the installation incorporates successive layers of suspended clear acrylic plates to reflect three blue and three red lasers. The movement of the plates caused by the draft in the room scatters the light reflections across the walls of the room.
In the other installation, “Speed Shift,” Redl incorporates two bands of white LED light grids and simple audible beeps to create subtle shifts in the audience's perception of time. Each LED band displays a fluid wave animation with synchronized pulses of beeps indicating the wave's speed. “The speed of each individual wave changes slowly over time, shifting in and out of phase with the other wave's speed,” he says.
“Our perception, accommodated to fixed, regular pulses and an even flow of time, slowly loses orientation within the complex overlapping wave patterns,” Redl explains. “It later regains solid footing again by descending into a slower meta-pulse which underlies both waves.”
What is most fascinating about this exhibition is how different the two installations are and, for Redl, how different audiences react to them.
“Very different from what I was expecting,” he says. “‘Speed Shift' on the third (floor) with its cold, white LEDs and sound seems to socially animate the audience. During the opening, it almost felt like a party room. People were extremely talkative and nonstop took pictures of themselves in front of the work.”
The audience's reaction to the second floor with the much darker “Twists and Turns” installation was “extremely quiet, almost silent,” he says. “I thought it would be different. I thought that the cavelike warmth of the second floor with red and blue lasers would generate a more active social space and the stark white light on the third floor would make people more distant from each other.”
“It illustrates that the audience and the interactions between audience members become an active, often unpredictable, part of my installations.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.