Consider New York City and its oddities in the day compared to the night. Consider the abundance of light that keeps our city uniquely active all hours of the day and night. Consider the hundreds of people we encounter and do not speak to, the many things we see and do not touch, the difference of an alleyway in the daylight compared to the darkness of night. Marc Egger, Miya Ando, and Benjamin Heller explore these perceptions with their glow-in-the-dark paintings, sculpture, and performance art in “Nightlight” at Fresh Window Gallery inside 56 Bogart.
In the normal indoor lighting of the small and ironically windowless Fresh Window, Egger’s paintings look like pretty pastel paintings with a sort of oatmeal texture and color, with hints of pinks and purples. They’re pleasing and calming, and work well with Ando’s relaxing sculpture, “Obon Leaves,” in the middle of the space: a large, raised, square, and shallow plane of water with petals delicately floating in it. A “normal,” pleasing, in-door gallery experience. But what happens when that sense of normalcy is completely turned on its head? What happens to this “alleyway” at night?
The lights dim until they turn completely off. A thick curtain is drawn over the door, and just like the city around us, as the sun sets and we adapt to the sidewalks sparkling a little more under gradually brightening street lamps, the pieces completely change in aesthetic and mood, and so does our interaction with them. The gallery space suddenly seems infinite. The paintings become reactive to the darkness, and so do we. The once pastel pigment begins to emit a soft warm glow, revealing a complete transformation. In the dark, the phosphorescent abstract paintings revealed bright greens, reds and yellows on a deep blue subtly glowing celestial background. The petals in the sculpture have “charged” with light all day, now emit a delicate blue radiance of their own. The space transformed from a commonplace indoor world of objects, to one that emanated nature. Though abstract, the shapes in the works resembled plants, the mysteries that sparkle and glow in the depth of the ocean, stars, and constellations. Walking around the stiff, concrete room begins to feel like moving through a forest around a still pond at night.
An interesting moment connected the viewers in the pitch black gallery. As the lights dimmed, almost everyone became silent and still. It seemed wrong to speak or walk through the space, as if everyone interpreted the feeling of the still of the night that the show exuded, and acted accordingly.
The particular night I visited the gallery a performance titled “Waterlines,” inspired by the surrounding work, was set to take place (which you can catch again at the gallery on October 17th at 7pm). Artist Benjamin Heller stood in the dark, dressed in a dapper suit, except for shoes. In the pitch black, only lit by the glow of the paintings, Heller began to sway, and dip his in hands in the watery part of “Obon Leaves.” He moved his fingers and hands as if to recreate one of the paintings on the wall with water, and the quiet, relaxing sounds of the lapping liquid were almost deafening in the dead quiet space. He moved around the sculpture around the space, and in the pitch black, he selected audience members at random, and one of them happened to be me.
Heller gently took my fingertips and pulled them so softly toward the sculpture, it took me a minute to realize he wanted me to walk with him. He cupped his hands and dripped some water onto my fingers. It was cool, and the tiny droplets ran down my arms. He then guided my hands into the water, inviting me to splash. With limited ability to see, it was a different and more mysterious experience than it would have been in the light. When we were done, he touched his fingertips to mine, and we gently swayed, like an awkward slow dance. I drifted back to my space and the lights went up. In the light, I was brought back to a sense of self and rational thought. This dark experiences evoked an odd and liberating feeling. Heller drew me out of the darkness to (gasp!) touch the art. He invited me to move around the space, to trust and connect with the performer—a stranger—and to play.
There is something to be said about what’s revealed in New York in the dark. In the dark, we adjust. The city scape becomes breathtaking. Buildings, bridges, and water take on an entirely new life compared to their daytime appearances. In the night, we go to restaurants or bars and talk to the hundreds of people we might otherwise pass during the day. We trust others to lead the way to the next place. We dance, we drink, we see art, we blast music, we play. We touch. “Nightlight,” does an excellent job at making us aware of the difference in energy and reactions between day and night. The show successfully slows us down for a second to reflect on our space, time, and actions. “Nightlight” brings a sense of awareness to our nighttime selves, and our daytime potential.
“Nightlight” runs through October 18th at Fresh Window Gallery inside 56 Bogart (lower level), and there will be another performance by Benjamin Heller on October 17th at 7pm. You can also catch Miya Ando’s solo show ‘Kisetsu’ (Seasons) at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, October 16 – November 17