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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

Interactive "Neon" illuminates

By Meredith Johnson
Arts Editor

Friday, April 9, 2004

The most recent art exhibit to come to St. Olaf, Vince Koloski and Brad Jirka's "Light and Action: Neon and Kinetic Sculpture," was a collection of striking contrasts. The show, which runs through April 11, included mediums ranging from neon to wood to magnets to raffia.

While the windows of the gallery were draped in black paper, the art inside glowed with neon reds, yellows and blues. Some of the pieces were large, eye-catching acrylic books with colorful words etched into them; others were more subtle interactive sculptures in muted brown tones. The diverse works were tied together, however, by the way they drew viewers in through emissions of either light or movement.

Koloski used neon and acrylic as his primary medium.

Many of his sculptures were shaped like large books, with neon writing lighting up each "page." In "Six Pages of Creation," Koloski etched creation stories from sources as diverse as the Celtic people of Europe, the Bushongo people of Zaire and the Christian Bible into his sculpture.

Another book sculpture was entitled "Imprisoned Words (The Jail Book)." In this piece, Koloski inscribed quotes about injustice, oppression and minorities from figures such as Nicola Sacco and Martin Luther King Jr. into the nearly-closed "pages" of the sculpture. The cover was made of jail bars.

Art Professor Jill Ewald said, "[Koloski] is dealing with colors and what they do when they hit surfaces. Each piece [is] not only the individual piece you see, but this aura, this environment of light."

Ewald explained that color and light behave differently, since color is a pigment and light is a wave. By using light and plastic as his mediums, Koloski achieved the effect of having light not only hit a surface, but mix with the surface as well.

While Koloski incorporated the shapes of books into his art, Jirka was inspired by their content. "[What I make] has a lot to do with what I happen to be reading," Jirka said. "I'm enticed by the history of technology in general."

That scientific influence could be seen in pieces such as "Vesica Radia," from the Philosophical Objects Series, and "Voci Marconia," from the "Instrument Series." Both pieces looked like old scientific gadgets, and included magnets and knobs that the viewer was allowed to touch.

By making his sculptures interactive, Jirka invited viewers to experience the same sense of exploration and wonder that has driven technology throughout history.

"I want the works to be creating another question for the viewers," Jirka said. "[If the viewers were] a little bit mystified, that would be nice."

Like Koloski, Jirka also dealt with neon in several pieces, including a series of photographs of large neon sculptures that he and his wife, artist Kate Jones, created together. The neon shapes and images brightened the drab urban backgrounds of the photograph, and raised intriguing questions about whether the sculptures themselves or the photographs of the sculptures were the "real" pieces of art on display.

Although the pairing of neon and interactive sculptures may not immediately appear to be a logical combination, the pieces in "Light and Action: Neon and Kinetic Sculpture" joined together to form an appealing contrast to one another and allowed viewers to experience a diverse array of medium and color.

As Jirka said, "Objects exist beyond just being looked at." Through their use of light and movement in sculpture, Koloski and Jirka showed just that.

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