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Having visited Norway in the mid 90’s, their use of underwater tunnels connecting islands to the mainland and unique suspension and pontoon bridges impressed me. Driving on these often-desolate constructions, using only headlights to navigate through the dark passageways induced an eerie, unearthly lightness of being. Norwegian artist HC Gilje’s in transit at Wood Street Galleries brought me back to my time in Norway and in particular these structures and described sensations. The exhibition consists of four light driven installations on two floors, which lyrically impact the viewer and evoke the sensation of movement. Perhaps as Gilje made his way from Pittsburgh International Airport through the Fort Pitt Tunnels to the gallery, he may have experienced something similar to traveling in his homeland and this provided the impetus for his latest work.
On the first floor three pieces utilized masked projected animations. The largest occupied half of the first floor and featured a site specific animated projection into a corner space extending out onto the floor up onto the walls. An approximately two inches wide white band bordered the animation forming a polygonal shape on the ground and extended onto the walls. A minimally invasive repetitive machine like sound component accompanied the projection. On an approximately five minute loop a variety of imagery slowly shifted from solid areas of color, to thicker tube-like structures and eventually from still bands of light into a singular white band on the ground, which finally began to move in a snake like fashion. An intersecting yellow waving band mimicking painted lane markings on a highway or car headlights on a winding road joined the light display. These movements reflected off the highly polished floor onto the walls in a softly focused yellowish green helix conjuring the sensation of driving in the rain and emulated the look of the aurora borealis, obviously another Norwegian reference.
Two smaller sculptural pieces featured projections onto and through geometric wooden shapes. Gilje placed a projector at about a 45° angle near the ceiling and projected an animation through an oval mask onto an upright circular frame mounted to the floor. It lit the edge of the circular frame and also created changing colored circle(s) on the floor, a reflection from the circle onto the floor, and also a hazy yellow greenish circular reflection on the wall resembling the reflections from the larger piece on this floor.
The other smaller piece consisted of a square frame resting on the floor with one side slightly raised off the floor. A projection from the ceiling, straight down onto the square frame created another larger square at a 45° angle to the wooden square so that the wooden squares’ corners touched the projected squares’ sides and also created a shadow underneath the square. The animated projection slowly modulated through a variety of colors including blues, reds, and whites illuminating the frame, the inside of the fame, and also the projected square around the frame. Subtle transitions of color reminded me of animated Joseph Albers color experiments and referenced surface and structure issues in painting. The piece linked at times to the large projection on the floor and wall via color and to the piece on the second floor through the square frame shape.
Nine wooden square frames painted white filled most of the second floor’s darkened space. Each approximately 3’ x 3’, spaced equidistantly in succession, all suspended from the ceiling at the same height, with the middle of the frames near eye level, arranged to create a long rectangular structure. Above these frames a moving led light on a track traveled the length of the rectangular structure illuminating the frames below. Once the light reached the last frame it then began again above the first frame on the opposite side of the room. One could experience the piece from any place on the floor with a variety of effects but what seemed to work best for me was standing right in front of the long sequence of rectangular frames as if looking into a large piece of duct-work. Here Gilje created a sculptural animation where synchronized illuminations of the hanging frames acted like cells in a traditional animation. The light would travel towards the viewer from this vantage point and illuminate each frame in succession as it passed overhead. The strobe like effect created the feeling as if you were driving through a tunnel at night. At the same time each of the shadows from the frame could be seen on the floor as moving rectangles which permutated into trapezoidal like animated geometric forms continually moving across the floor away from the viewer. The speed of the light stayed constant. Unlike the pieces on the first floor there was not a created sound element, however, the lack of sound created its own presence perhaps like John Cage’s 1952 composition 4′33″, which heightened the immersion into the piece and its subsequent impact.
Living in a global society one cannot escape the constant bombardment of images and information about conflicts, killings, and depravity amongst individuals, ethnic and religious groups, and nation states. Also, the pervasive nature of advertising and consumer culture fuels attempts to manipulate how we look and act steering us to the appropriate products and services to buy to attain fulfillment. With good reason many artists reflect and critique compelling issues of the day. However, HC Gilje through an essentially minimalist framework and use of geometric forms, chooses to create a temporary escape from this frenetically paced, all pervasive smothering outside world transporting the audience through his capacity to manipulate time, light, and space. The beauty of the work lies in its ability to relocate the viewer to this altered framework while using an economy of means. The combination of the simple yet refined translated into an absorbing result and expressed in a subtle but tangible way the obvious connection of artist to place.
Scott Turri hails from suburban Philadelphia but now calls Pittsburgh home, where he divides his labor amongst: making art, writing, and educating. View more articles by Scott Turri.