The eerily beautiful images on this page are from the American Academy in Rome, where Heather Carson, the first LD to win a Rome Prize in Design Arts, has spent the last several months probing further into the work she calls "Light Action." In these installations, Carson, an accomplished designer for theatre and opera, transforms light from a medium of illumination to the center of attention. Previous Light Action works have been seen at a house in upstate New York, a store window for l.a. Eyeworks, and in Arhus, Denmark.
Now the Bass Garden at the American Academy is the site of Carson's latest opus, titled Light Action: "black/light/night/ white/garden," in which lighting is used to turn the space into an exquisite forest of night. Upon arriving in Rome, the designer notes, "I noticed this grove of bare trees whose trunks had been painted white with lime, to protect them. They seemed rather forlorn and forgotten in the back corner. I wanted somehow to articulate this architectural structure."
An experiment with blacklight didn't work out, so she turned to blue fluorescent units, which gave the tree trunks a phosphorescent glow. "I drew out various ideas for the placement of the lights--diagonal lines, a large grid--but because the trees themselves are not on a perfect grid, another organized shape would highlight the imperfect grid. I finally hit on the idea of a 'light well,' a tree well made of light. This arrangement gives each tree its own autonomy, almost as if each tree came with its own light."
The overall area with the trees measures 10x24m (33'x79'). There are 18 light wells made up of four 2' fluorescent fixtures, with 18W blue fluorescent tubes, for a total of 72 fixtures. The project drew rave reviews from several of Carson's Rome fellows. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein (An American Daughter, the film The Object of My Affection) says, "The rows, when lit, had the symmetrical fascination of a Balanchine ballet. In fact, I always thought at any moment those trees would begin dancing in line like a corps de ballet. Heather Carson's lights gave the garden both an esprit and a classical order." Poet Mark Strand adds that the garden "is a work of exquisite and magical refinement. A small orchard of fruit trees becomes a garden of ethereal blues, a secret meeting place for the angelic and the human, a halfway place between this world and the next--something like the city of Rome in which it shines."
Carson's project was made possible by a grant from the Graham Foundation for the Advancement of Fine Arts. She adds, "This is an idea I want to develop further. I can envision a garden entirely made up of lights--a lavender metal-halide patch, a vertical grove of fluorescents. It would be the perfect urban garden, for a rooftop or balcony. Instead of using soil and air and water to grow, it would need electricity and wire and gasses to make the light. And because it doesn't need soil, it is liberated from the ground plane, and could float overhead in space." Of course, it helps if, like Carson, you have a green thumb with light.