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The Density of Light

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
  The Chicago Cultural .Center was constructed as the city’s first central public library more than one hundred years ago. With visions of grandeur, the country’s top architects and craftsmen employed materials that included rare imported marbles, polished brass, fine hardwoods, mosaics of Favrile glass, mother-of-pearl and colored stone. The Beaux Arts building was known as the “People’s Palace” and boasted the world’s largest Louis Comfort Tiffany art glass dome, that dazzled viewers with natural light.
   This summer, visitors to the architectural treasure, are witnessing a luminous site- specific installation by Chicago artist Jason Peot, who has transformed the gallery space into his own environment. From the ceiling, Peot suspended a composition of aluminum and wood derived from a map of the 25 most populated U.S. cities, and the light that shines through the structure creates an intricate map of shadows on the east wall. On the north wall, Peot installed an earlier work that illustrates the most populated U.S. states, through a
poetic web of acrylic rods. Synthesizing physical and metaphoric elements, light and shadow, past and current work, the artist creates a display that compels viewers to search for meaning within the beauty.
   When I asked Peot about the new installation’s title “coterminous,” he smiled and explained that sometimes he likes to invent words for his works’ titles, but for this show the title was not another made-up word. Peot said that one of the meanings of coterminous was the concept of shared borders, and for his new installation he focused on cities within the contiguous states in the U.S.
   On the south wall, Peot hung a series of small constructions, made of wood and photographs of earlier work.  The rectangular pieces symbolize the most populous cities. He states: “I have photographed all of my installations extensively. Beyond the regular need to document one’s work, the quantity of images most likely comes out of an attempt at preserving these temporary works. A few years ago I began sifting through the slides and realized that many of them surpass
documentary pictures. These images, often detail shots, appeared to disconnect themselves from the original installations and form new visual relationships.”
    For the piece on the west wall, Peot drilled holes through the drywall. From his constructed light source on one side of the wall he extended acrylic rods that channeled and connected the light through holes, and onto the back side of the wall, where a splendid map of points appears, illuminating the physical locations of populous U.S. cities. “The whole enterprise can be seen as a metaphor for our attempt to find meaning within our sense of place,” said Curator Lanny Silverman.
    Jason Peot (b. 1971) grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1990 he moved to Chicago to study art and design at DePaul University. The artist had always been
interested in light and its optical effects, from the starry nights of northern Wisconsin to the skylights of downtown Chicago. In 1997 he received an MFA in sculpture from Northern Illinois University, and currently he is an Assistant Professor of Art at Harper College in Palatine. Peot’s installations and objects have been exhibited nationally and are included in such public and private collections as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Elmhurst Art Museum.
    In his artist’s statement he notes: “A piece must always begin by studying and experiencing the pre-existing characteristics of the site, including the forms, space, surfaces, textures, and especially the light. Whether natural or artificial, the light of a space becomes one of the major factors in my development of an installation. Much of what I bring to a site in creating an installation centers around the use of light and shadow and how they react with material and space. The elements I create and alterations I make combine with the existing nature of the site to form a complete piece.”
    The Chicago Cultural Center is exhibiting “Coterminous” until October 3, 2010, and a talk with the artist is scheduled for Thursday, September 23, at 12:15 p.m.

Published: August 08, 2010
Issue: Fall 2010 Issue