Courtesy of Cornell AAP

March 16, 2017

Light and Sound Synesthesia

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“Would we be able to detect music without the ear? Of course not. Well, we are surrounded by things whose existence we never suspect, because we lack the organs that would reveal them to us.”

– Guy De Maupassant

De Maupassant’s quote provides an interesting touchstone for Yael Erel’s exhibition, Light Topographies, on show in the John Hartell Gallery. In this unique exhibit, the artist seeks to explain the subtleties of light, texture, sound and their relationship to one another. The banal becomes the fantastical as sheets of metal, light to the touch, reflect wonderful tapestries of light on the white walls and hanging sheets of the gallery space. Erel’s background as a licensed architect in New York and Israel provides the framework for light itself as a form of architecture. The soft and hard lines of light paintings provide a biomorphic design framework. The waveforms are exposed, enlarged and highlighted, as symphonies and crescendos are generated through a variety of interactive installations within the space.

In one particular piece, entitled Double Reflector, the viewer is expected to interact with a vertically hanging sheet of thin metallic paper that lies parallel, suspended between two sheets of translucent white paper. As I hesitantly poked at the floating metallic surface, a seismic shift in the reflection on the white paper gave me quite a start. The simple movement, amounting to just a few inches, resulted in a projection of such vast differences in light that it was reminiscent of an earthquake, or of waves off of a stormy coastline. The smallest movements and gestures have ramifications unseen by the human eye. It reminded me of the butterfly effect, the idea that the simple flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a chain reaction of apocalyptic proportions. Light is seen as a malleable but deeply complex system that is constantly being shifted, played with, yet also kept constant, despite our human meddling.

Erel’s interest in light, and the exhibition of its complexity, is showcased in an installation that is painterly in its assessment of physical phenomena. Erel fuses the scientific and the artistic, evoking the beauty of the former and its inextricable link to the latter. For thousands of years, artists have found inspiration in biomorphic forms, whether that be the curve of a tortoise’s shell or the splayed broad leaves of a fern. In Light Topographies, a microscope is taken to the smallest of details, to cellular proportions, to highlight the immense beauty and inherent magic in something we often take for granted. To fight seasonal affective disorder and immerse oneself in the beauty of one of our most sacred elements, see Light Topographies before the sun sets on this wonderful exhibit this Friday March 17th.

Light Topographies is on display in the John Hartell Gallery until Friday, March 17. 

Harrison Holland-McCowan is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected].