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Illuminate at Water Street Studios

Sean Williams. Light Miners (series). 2007. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Philosopher Erich Fromm said that “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” With Illuminate, the staff at Water Street Studios has decided new ideas are worth the risk. In seven gallery shows over the past two years, Water Street has displayed strong exhibitions, each including a vast range of artistic subjects, a healthy representation of 3-dimensional work, and its own share of surprises. With Illuminate, Gallery Director Steven Lockwood has abandoned that successful formula. The lights have been dimmed, the pieces have grown larger and less numerous, gallery space has doubled — and half of the pieces are glowing. Illuminate is Water Street’s first themed exhibition, and the gallery has been curated to suit its focus: light. “I wanted to make an entirely new experience for visitors,” said Lockwood. “Illuminate will be more of an event and an experience than a show.”

Illuminate is undoubtedly something new at Water Street. Work by eighteen artists, rather than the usual thirty-five, spreads across two rooms: the main gallery and an adjacent space which is on loan for the exhibition. Batavians may remember it as the theater of First Street Playhouse. Overall, the spacing gives the show a slower pace and a more contemplative atmosphere, though sometimes it feels as if more pieces could have been displayed without compromising the effect. In addition, lights in the main gallery have been lowered to compliment several light-emitting pieces. Those in the adjacent gallery have been shut off altogether to accommodate its three light-based sculptures and six light box photographs. The adjusted lighting increases the quiet atmosphere of the exhibition. Lockwood comments that his intent was to “slow the viewer down to take each piece in.” and “give each piece its own air to breath.” In addition, each work is accompanied by a brief artist statement, speaking to its subject matter and inspiration. Another first for Water Street, Lockwood remarks that he wants the audience to understand how each piece relates to the theme of the show.

Kari Kraus. Bevy Illuminated, 2012. Silk organza, pins. Water Street Studios, Batavia, IL. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

Walking through the gallery, I couldn’t help but think how different it felt from the previous exhibitions. Rather than encounter a multitude of colorful works in every direction, I was able to study each piece more carefully, knowing I was dividing my time among fewer works. One that stood out to me in the main gallery was Bevy Illuminated by Kari Kraus. Familiar at Water Street for her installations comprised of vibrant pieces of organza, with Bevy Illuminated, Kraus decided to desaturate. The work consists of a myriad of pieces of translucent, black organza. What’s impressive about Kraus’s piece is that it interacts with light in two ways at once. The light hitting the work casts shadows below the organza, forming shapes nearly indistinguishable from Kraus’s delicate, silk wisps. At the same time, the metal pins holding each shape in place reflect the light, lending the diaphanous piece a sense of glamour, like sequins on an evening gown. Overall, she achieves an installation that feels both simple and striking.

To the left of Kraus’s piece are two closed doors. Passing through them, one enters the large, 3,800 square foot adjacent gallery, lit only by the artworks within. Each piece is exciting to discover, most of all Accord, a large metal sculpture by Bree Gomez.

Bree Gomez. Accord. Water Street Studios, Batavia, IL. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

It’s the first piece one encounters and also the strangest. Initially it appears threatening. Its sideways v’ shape and visually sharp edges give it the appearance of an alligator’s mouth or a giant pair of scissors. Suspended between the “jaws” of the piece are twenty plastic cables reminiscent of rope lights — or teeth. However, upon approaching, those feelings of unease quickly vanish as the piece starts to make music. A sonar beam from within bounces off the viewer, unleashing a chorus of violins and flutes. As they play, higher as one approaches, lower as one withdraws, the cables flicker with blue light. Suddenly, Accord changes from a pair of scissors to a harp. The whole experience gives the piece a dual feeling of whimsy and implied danger.

Possibly the most exciting art pieces of Illuminate, however, hang at the far end of the room. Sean Williams’ International Photography Award winning Light Miners series is represented at Water Street by six of the overall eighteen photographs. Williams displays each piece in a huge light box that hangs down from the ceiling on metal rods. They depict a world in which the earth has begun to grow light, with each piece in the sequence depicting man’s labors to harvest the new resource. Grubby, blue-collar workers pick the light from trees and dig it up from the earth. They set up pipes beneath the ground and rustic windmills on top of it. With each photograph, Williams creates such a successful fantasy that it’s hard to believe that they were all photographed in parks and sub-basements of Chicago. The illusion is astonishing.

I take my time in the dark gallery and eventually re-enter the main room where an artist is installing a piece of work on the ceiling. “This is something I’m really enjoying,” remarks Álvero Amat, as he fiddles with a ceiling-mounted projector. Lockwood explains to me that Amat is working with a special type of pliable, transparent plastic which when hit at the right angles refracts light like a prism. The idea is to fill the center of the gallery with a dazzling display of colors. When I ask Lockwood which resident artist has surprised him the most with their submission for Illuminate, he says its Amat. Thinking back to the small, interactive sculptures Amat exhibited previously, it’s evident that he’s trying something very new with this piece. It’s a step in a new direction for him, just as it is for Water Street Studios.

Illuminate shows that when Water Street diverges from its traditional exhibitions it can become a very different space. It will be interesting to see how they approach themed shows in the future while retaining their commitment to showing the varied work of their resident artists. Regardless, with Illuminate they are off to a good start. Dazzling, intimate, and full of surprises, it is not to be missed.

Illuminate opens on Friday, January 28th from 6 – 10pm. It runs through May 14. For more information, click here.

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1 Response to " Illuminate at Water Street Studios "

  1. Jim Kirkhoff says:

    Great article. This will be an excellent show!

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