LIGHT KEEPER (2019) by Caitlind r.c. Brown, Wayne Garrett, and Studio North. Commissioned by Waterfront Toronto for Aitken Place Park (Toronto, Canada).

In collaboration with Studio North, we’ve just finished a new public artwork called LIGHT KEEPER. For a more thorough account of that 3-year process, you can visit our LIGHT KEEPER project blog. Below is a condensed version of the process. For just the final artwork, click here.

LIGHT KEEPER was commissioned for Aitken Place Park, a newly constructed public park in the former lakefront industrial district of Toronto. We’d already been looking for a way to collaborate with artist + designer friends at Studio North in Calgary, so when we saw a Call for Proposals for light-based public art, we decided to apply together.

Visiting a spectacular collection of lighthouse lenses at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

When developing our light-based concepts + materials for LIGHT KEEPER, we were fascinated by the possibility of creating large-scale projections using analog technology. For many years, we’ve been fascinated with the spectral possibilities of fresnel lenses, especially the large-scale glass lenses found in lighthouses.

Visiting Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Island (2 km from Aitken Place Park)

While we were considering the relationship between Aiken Place Park (a green space on the edge of Lake Ontario) and light, we drew a correlation between lighthouses, water, wayfinding, and celestial events.

An unintended byproduct of the prisms used to build lighthouse lenses is rainbow light. This is the spectral effect we’re most interested in capturing with the analog components of LIGHT KEEPER, referencing the wayfinding characteristics of lighthouses and tying them back to the phenomenology of water-bodies, of weather, of optics, and of natural spaces.

Our intention was to build a prismatic lense and mechanize it to wash spectral light across the surrounding park space, like waves on the nearby lake. The speed of the waves would correspond to the speed of the wind. In search of rainbows, our prototyping process lasted several years – a series of experiments between other projects.

We were able to test our prototypes at Glow Winter Light Festival in Calgary, with an iteration of the artwork called Device for Summoning Rainbows. This experiment taught us much about the environmental considerations of the artwork, testing our hypotheses about the way people would interact with moving beams of light. We were surprised by the interaction between the rainbows and the mirrored surfaces of the structure, a kaleidoscopic effect we emphasized for the final work.

Along with rainbow waves, the second optical aspect of LIGHT KEEPER is the Moon Clock. Lake Ontario is one of a handful of lakes in the world large enough to experience tides, lake water drawn to the gravitational pull of earth’s nearest celestial body: the moon.

Designed to mirror the moon above, the Moon Clock uses a spotlight pointed at a mirror to project a moon onto the park surrounding the structure of the artwork. Waxing and waning shapes match the phase of the moon in the night sky on any given day. The idea is that people can use the projection to chart the current moon phase: is it a waxing gibbous? Crescent? New moon? Just look at LIGHT KEEPER and you’ll know.

The structure of LIGHT KEEPER is an open-faced, mirrored, prism-shaped obelisk. It was engineered by Entuitive, fabricated by F&D Scene Changes and clad in stainless steel by Reggin Industries. We fabricated our own optics.

Structural install was performed by Great Lakes Scenic. Our team installed the devices of LIGHT KEEPER, running electrical, peeling stainless steel, and tuning optical components of the artwork.

This public artwork was installed in November 2019.

Taking its name from the keepers who maintain lighthouses, LIGHT KEEPER speaks to light as a medium for sending messages across vast dark spaces, helping vessels find their way, and signalling danger or change ahead.

During the day, the artwork stands as a mirrored obelisk, reflecting the surrounding environment of the park space, awaiting the sunset. After dark, this public artwork illuminates, inviting viewers to bask in its glow.

Designed for a public park on the shore of Lake Ontario, LIGHT KEEPER takes on new meaning against the bright metropolis of Toronto, referencing the disappearance of natural phenomenon from urban spaces. Spectral waves shift speed in accordance with the wind, measured by an anemometer. The moon changes phases with the moon in the night sky, often unseen above the dense skyline and glow of the city.

Alluding to interspaces between manmade + natural, placemaking + wayfinding, urban + environmental, LIGHT KEEPER attempts to capture and keep the ephemeral light that cities threaten to overwhelm.

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