Q: So… what exactly is it?
A: Southern Lights is a sculptural public artwork that exists between the Gervais and Blossom Street bridges, over a small portion of the Congaree River. The sculpture uses laser light, and can be seen for a couple hours each evening. Click here for a list of suggested viewing areas.
A: Lasers?! So is this like a Led Zeppelin show?
Q: No, laser shows involve fast motion and are usually directed toward a 2-dimensional surface. This is a static, quiet and contemplative artwork seen in free space. You will never be able to see the whole thing at once, but will be drawn into and discover different aspects of the installation and build a Gestalt image of the totality in your mind.
Q: Has this ever been done before?
A: Yes, the artist has successfully completed projects:
- Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
- University of Massachusetts, Amherst. MA
- Third Century America US Bicentennial Exposition on Science & Technology, Kennedy Space
- Center (with Rockne Krebs)
- Arcosanti Festival, Cordes Junction, AZ
- International Sculpture Conference, Washington, DC (with Rockne Krebs)
- SC State Museum
- Governor’s Carol Lighting, SC State House
- First Night, Raleigh, NC
- Installations on Main, Sumter, SC
- Sumter Court House
Q: Will it have an effect on the environment? Birds, etc?
A: It will have no effect on the environment other than ambient light- which is all around us. It will alert us to the moisture and incidental matter in the atmosphere (dust, pollution,etc.). That is what allows us to see the beam. Organizations including US Fish and Wildlife and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have received a detailed briefing and corresponding map of the installation. These wildlife experts have assured us that the installation will not impact nesting or migratory birds. Organizers will re-consult with these organizations on an ongoing basis to make sure that night migrants are being monitored and prioritized.
Q: Can I stare directly into the light?
A: You can stare directly at the beams, though you never want your eye to intersect the beam path, and that will not be possible as all of the beams will be out of viewer reach.
Q: Can I touch the lasers? Will they hurt me?
A: No, you will not be able to touch the lasers, as they are in remote and inaccessible locations and enclosed in a protective housing. Laser light at this power can be damaging to the eye; however, all of the beams must and will be well out of reach of any viewer. Additionally, the beams are very compact, don’t spread like ambient light, and have little or no dispersion. They also dissipate very quickly over distance.
Q: I heard this is going to be on for the next decade. Is that true?
A: The intention of Southern Lights is for it to be a long-term installation. The exact lifetime of the piece will depend on several elements, including the lifespan of the equipment. Comparative to other public artworks, the anticipated lifetime of this piece is minimal.