Se­ri­ous twi­light

The ap­pear­ance of blues and reds can change so dramatically that you might won­der which ver­sion of the colors is “cor­rect.” There is no ab­so­lute “cor­rect,” but if you want to see what an artist saw while paint­ing a pic­ture, you should view the paint­ing un


Stephen Auger’s mixed-me­dia art­works are de­signed to re­fract and re­flect light in a spec­trum of colors nor­mally out­side the range of visibility dur­ing day­light hours. His com­po­si­tions are in­spired by cur­rent re­search into the ef­fect of twi­light on the senses. Auger’s work is on view in Peters Projects in­vi­ta­tional In­ven­tory of Light , an ex­hibit that brings to­gether works by 10 re­gional and na­tional artists whose prac­tices lie at the in­ter­sec­tion of art and science. The ex­hi­bi­tion, which opens on Fri­day, March 27, in­cludes pieces by Robert Buel­te­man, Thomas Ashcraft, and Lita Al­bu­querque, and is held in con­junc­tion with the an­nual con­fer­ence The Art of Sys­tems Bi­ol­ogy and Nanoscience. On the cover is Buel­te­man’s Pop­u­lus Tremu­loides , a 2001 pho­togram made with high-volt­age elec­tric­ity and fiber-op­tic light.

an art gallery or mu­seum, the light­ing is typ­i­cally de­signed to re­duce shad­ows and il­lu­mi­nate work us­ing a spec­trum that ap­prox­i­mates, but rarely achieves, that of nat­u­ral day­light. But day­light at its bright­est mutes the colors the hu­man eye can see. It may seem un­likely, but there’s a short du­ra­tion of time, just af­ter sun­set or just be­fore dawn, when a fuller range of color is vis­i­ble, when the rods and cones of the eye that en­able peo­ple to see color and light are ac­ti­vated at the same time, en­rich­ing the world with an al­most hal­lu­ci­na­tory vi­brancy. That time is twi­light, and it has been a fa­vored time for land­scape and plein-air pain­ters for cen­turies. But par­tic­u­larly since the ad­vent of elec­tric light, peo­ple sel­dom view a paint­ing un­der such con­di­tions.

Over the past few years, Santa Fe-based painter Stephen Auger has been work­ing with Har­vard Uni­ver­sity neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Mar­garet Liv­ing­stone on an art project, grounded in science, called Twi­light Ar­ray , a se­ries of com­po­si­tions meant to en­gage as large a range of vi­sion as pos­si­ble. “Her work is re­ally with the func­tion of color per­cep­tion: how rods and cones work, how dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal mes­sen­gers within those trans­late to ex­pe­ri­ence of the vis­ual world,” Auger told

Pasatiempo . “The body of work I’m do­ing now came out of this com­mis­sion, which I got from a cu­ra­tor I work with in New York, Gary Sny­der. We de­cided on a topic I’ve been fas­ci­nated with for 20 years, which is pe­riph­eral per­cep­tion and twi­light, par­tic­u­larly late-twi­light per­cep­tion. Mar­garet’s in­ter­est in twi­light is be­cause, in the world of neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy and vis­ual science, twi­light is the least un­der­stood of all states of per­cep­tion.”

Auger is show­ing a num­ber of paint­ings in Peters Projects’ In­ven­tory of Light , an ex­hi­bi­tion of works by artists who in­cor­po­rate science into their artis­tic prac­tice. The show is in con­junc­tion with the Art of Sys­tems Bi­ol­ogy and Nanoscience, an an­nual con­fer­ence spon­sored by the New Mex­ico Cen­ter for the Spa­tiotem­po­ral Mod­el­ing of Cell Sig­nal­ing and Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­to­ries. The con­fer­ence is on Fri­day and Satur­day, March 27 and 28, at the gallery and in­cludes lec­tures on bi­o­log­i­cal science and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties — a good fit for Auger, whose prac­tice deals di­rectly with phe­nom­ena ex­pe­ri­enced by the hu­man eye. “I’m a painter, but my back­ground is in neu­ro­science, and I’ve long been in­ter­ested in color per­cep­tion,” he said. “All of the art that I’ve done since 1978 has been limited to the use of fre­quen­cies in the red, blue, and green range. I’m work­ing with the phys­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal abil­ity of the eye to take those color groups and cre­ate all the colors in the spec­trum.”

His paint­ings are made us­ing a va­ri­ety of un­com­mon medi­ums, in­clud­ing re­frac­tive pig­ments and epox­ies, op­ti­cal glass, and highly pol­ished chrome steel ball bear­ings in vary­ing di­am­e­ters. Auger af­fixes thou­sands of such chrome bear­ings and small, round beads of colored glass to his com­po­si­tions and coats them with thin lay­ers of clear re­frac­tive pig­ment; the glass and metal sur­faces bend and re­fract light and bounce it back in dif­fer­ent hues. The colors seen are not in­her­ent to the paint­ings, as they are with typ­i­cal oil-based pig­ments. They are an ef­fect that oc­curs in the space be­tween the paint­ing and the viewer, mak­ing Auger’s work ex­pe­ri­en­tial. The avail­able light in the room makes all the dif­fer­ence, and the qual­ity of that light de­ter­mines how his com­po­si­tions are per­ceived.

“Mar­garet and I re­al­ized af­ter we got a cou­ple of months into the project that, within the ex­hi­bi­tion con­text, we needed very spe­cial light,” he said. “Ninety-five per­cent of the lights you’ll see in mu­se­ums and gal­leries are halo­gens or MR16s. Those halo­gen bulbs are rated to be some­what like day­light spec­tral curves. The sun is pro­duc­ing the bright­est, whitest light when it’s at the high­est point in the sky. At dawn and dusk, the na­ture of the color curve — the color tem­per­a­ture of light — ut­terly changes. It’s much more rich in vi­o­let and blue tones. You’ll rarely find an artist that’s out paint­ing when the sun is at its high­est point. Pain­ters through time have worked with twi­light be­cause of the re­la­tion­ships of the shad­ows, be­cause of their abil­i­ties to nu­ance those qual­i­ties of

color and light. All kinds of ex­panded states of per­cep­tion — which in­clude be­ing able to see unique colors, be­ing able to have unique ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly in the pe­riph­eral as­pect of per­cep­tion in the ul­tra­vi­o­let range — are pos­si­ble. It’s pretty prob­lem­atic that a gallery would have day­light when a large per­cent­age of art is about look­ing at nu­ance of color dy­nam­ics.”

A sec­ond project de­vel­oped out of Auger and Liv­ing­stone’s col­lab­o­ra­tion is the cre­ation of a new kind of light­ing sys­tem for which they as­sem­bled a devel­op­ment team that in­cludes Benjamin Smarr, a cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. He’s also an ex­pert on the cir­ca­dian re­sponse — the bi­o­log­i­cal re­ac­tion of all or­gan­isms on earth to nat­u­ral rhythms and cy­cles, such as the sun’s el­lip­ti­cal tra­jec­tory over the course of a day. The team re­ceived sup­port from the Carnegie In­sti­tu­tion for Science. The tool, still un­der devel­op­ment, repli­cates the dy­namic light con­di­tions of na­ture for gallery set­tings. “The se­ries of paint­ings at Peters Projects are re­lated to this,” Auger said. “Like any art­work, they can be seen un­der any light, but if you were to take one home and have [it] in nat­u­ral il­lu­mi­na­tion and watched the colors ... move, there would be a whole se­ries of phe­nom­ena that you would per­ceive.”

Light is also the medium for the three-di­men­sional holo­grams of lo­cal artist Au­gust Muth, whose prac­tice in­volves coat­ing glass with a light-sen­si­tive emul­sion and then plac­ing it over an ob­ject he il­lu­mi­nates us­ing a laser aimed into a con­cave mir­ror. Light re­flect­ing off the ob­ject comes through the emul­sion and, like a pho­to­graph, is fixed. But his tech­nique is ex­act­ing: The emul­sion used to cre­ate the holo­grams, on view at In­ven­tory

of Light , is eas­ily af­fected by tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity, vi­bra­tions, and tim­ing. If any of th­ese and nu­mer­ous other vari­ables are off, the holo­gram sim­ply van­ishes.

Bos­ton-based artist Brian Knep has a back­ground in math­e­mat­ics and com­puter science. The for­mer en­gi­neer at mo­tion pic­ture vis­ual-ef­fects com­pany Industrial Light & Magic presents his project Drift , a se­ries of five side-by-side video pro­jec­tions of or­ganic shapes that slowly move across the pan­els from left to right in ac­cor­dance with pa­ram­e­ters the artist de­rived from chem­i­cal mod­els. As the images move, their be­hav­ior and ap­pear­ance change.

Lita Al­bu­querque’s video pro­jec­tion Bee­keeper , also on view, presents the im­age of a bee­keeper wear­ing a protective suit. The im­age slowly dis­si­pates, bro­ken up into a se­ries of in­di­vid­ual pix­els, and then re-forms into a co­he­sive im­age. The video is con­trolled through gen­er­a­tive com­puter soft­ware pro­grammed to al­low each pixel to fol­low a unique path ev­ery time the im­age of the bee­keeper dis­solves. “In con­jur­ing up the ini­tial ideas for

Bee­keeper , I con­tem­plated the vis­ual like­ness be­tween a bee­keeper and an as­tro­naut,” Al­bu­querque wrote in a state­ment. “The out­fits are sim­i­lar, but the con­nec­tion is much more cos­mic than a sim­ple vis­ual re­la­tion­ship. In con­sid­er­ing that re­la­tion­ship, I sum­moned up a nar­ra­tive in which an as­tro­naut is a star­keeper main­tain­ing life in the cos­mos, much in the same man­ner that a bee­keeper helps to main­tain bi­o­log­i­cal life on the planet.” When dis­in­te­grated, the pix­els form a sort of con­stel­la­tion in con­stant flux. The ebb and flow of the video rep­re­sents a cy­cle of or­der and chaos.

Ryan Wolfe’s in­stal­la­tion Branch­ing Sys­tems is an in­ter­ac­tive work based on the con­cept of cause and ef­fect, par­tic­u­larly the “but­ter­fly ef­fect” of chaos the­ory — the no­tion that a small change in a nat­u­ral sys­tem (such as the flap­ping of a but­ter­fly’s wings) can in­flu­ence a seem­ingly un­re­lated sys­tem at a later mo­ment (such as weather pat­terns). Wolfe uses ro­bot­ics de­signed to look like flow­ers and leaves that flut­ter and move when trig­gered by the move­ments of the spec­ta­tor.

Robert Buel­te­man shows Aspen Turn­ing , a vi­brant chro­mogenic print that’s part of his se­ries San­gre de

Cristo , which is based on re­gional flora. The im­age is a pho­togram, a grid of aspen leaves made us­ing high­volt­age elec­tric­ity and fiber-op­tic light rather than a cam­era or com­puter. Like Auger’s work, the re­sult­ing im­age cap­tures a range of vi­brant colors in the nat­u­ral spec­trum, each leaf glow­ing as if lit from within.

Other artists in the ex­hibit in­clude Kelsey Brookes, Thomas Ashcraft, Will Clift, Vic­to­ria Vesna, and Jonathon Wells.

Robert Buel­te­man: Vi­tus Vinifera, 1999, chro­mogenic devel­op­ment print; op­po­site page, Lita Al­bu­querque:

Bee­keeper , 2006, com­puter-gen­er­ated an­i­ma­tion from orig­i­nal soft­ware

Au­gust Muth: Pri­mor­dial Soup , 2015, holo­grams lam­i­nated in op­ti­cal fibers

Stephen Auger: Purk­inje Shift 1.0 , 2015, re­frac­tive pig­ments, high-re­frac­tive-in­dex op­ti­cal glass spheres, chrome steel ball bear­ings, and op­ti­cal epoxy on re­in­forced birch panel

Danc­ing Sprites Over Colorado

Thomas Ashcraft:

, 2014, color near-infrared pho­to­graph

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