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Most days the underside of the Smith-9th Street subway bridge over the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is a tangle of ungainly gray beams, but this week it has been aglow in bold colors every night. The vivid projection, dubbed “Spectrum II,” is an intervention by artists Colin Bowring and George Del Barrio, who are using powerful theatrical lights to beam a flowing range of hues onto a feature of Brooklyn’s urban landscape that is either unremarkable or oppressive, depending on who you ask.
Cast in deep red, tropical green, or psychedelic purple, however, those support beams begin to resemble the glowing geometric forms of a Light and Space artwork. Or, as Del Barrio put it while shining a perfect, barely perceptible square of purple light onto the side of the station Thursday night: “Eat your heart out, James Turrell!” Hyperallergic talked to him about the origins of his collaboration with Bowring and what spectators can expect from the opening reception on Friday, January 16.
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Benjamin Sutton: “Spectrum II” seems to differ from some of the Photographic Monuments pieces you’ve worked on; there’s no figurative image involved, or text. What interested you about using the color spectrum for this particular piece?
George Del Barrio: Until now, our Monuments have been entirely digital: pixel-mapped activations of landscape, content-rich. Through them, I’ve learned so much about storytelling at scale and how to build content to suit canvas — it’s a deeply satisfying, technical process. But the windows of accidental discovery available to a digital workflow that travels from screen to screen through predefined software and colorspace parameters are very small.
As much as I adore what we can do with mammoth projectors, I found myself contemplating analogue processes after the Kentile [iteration of Photographic] Monuments. We get an incredible amount of sky at the Gowanus Loft, and most days the sunsets are magical — deepening colors rake the bridge that wraps around our windows, a profound point of reflection for me since we opened in 2012.
Spectrum, Colin’s 2014 installation (curated by Courtney Jordan) at the Gowanus Ballroom last year, really drove home the emotional potential of refracted light in controlled circumstances, and when I asked him to meet me at the Loft, we watched the sun set as we spoke. The canvas had to be the bridge.
BS: The piece is different every night; how have you been tweaking the projection to create different effects?
GDB: The theater lights we’ve secured from Eastern Effects throw varying cones of light, from 19° (narrow) to 50° (wide), and each has an exceptional capacity to shape and focus the beam — we can highlight existing aspects of the bridge (i.e. a strut) or create new forms within the canvas that challenge perception (i.e. a perfect square) and multiply combinations of the two with color dynamics. As in: how does a 50-foot purple square feel when it lives on a pink bridge?
We’ve also built user-friendly color wheels to create a space for spontaneous creation: To see the bridge oscillate through the spectrum of light, fluidly, is remarkable.
BS: The Smith-9th Street bridge and station are not exactly the most elegant structures; what moved you to transform this bit of transportation infrastructure?
GDB: This utopia/dystopia tension has been with us from the start; I have a sense of the land as a key collaborator in all that we do at Vanderbilt Republic[, the creative agency Del Barrio founded]. There’s really nothing fixed about beauty, and the bridge that looms above can also be a reminder of our capacity to create.
BS: What has the response been, whether from neighbors in the building or passersby on the street?
GDB: We’ve gotten a lot of love! This is one nice example, and I’m supremely excited to see how people respond to the double rainbow we’ve built out in the project space on Friday night.
“Spectrum II” continues on the beams beneath the Smith-9th Street subway bridge (9th Street between Second Avenue and Smith Street, Gowanus) nightly, between 7–11pm, through January 23. On January 16, from 7–11pm there will be an artist’s reception at the Gowanus Loft with an additional site-specific light installation.
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