While there's certainly no shortage of reasons to be pessimistic about humanity and its future, I would like to take a moment to share a multifaceted glimmer of hope: Somewhere in this world, there exists a giant kaleidoscope that you can walk inside, basking in the glory of your own reflection splintered into an array of color and light.
This is all thanks to Masakazu Shirane and Reuben Young. The collaborators, hailing from Japan and New Zealand, respectively, worked together to construct Light Origami, a dome of reflective panels that create the illusion that you're strolling through a giant kaleidoscope. The installation, which made its debut at Vivid Sydney last May, invites attendees to experience an alternate reality, one where nature is infinite, angular and reflected across a carefully constructed array of aluminum-composite panels.
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This isn't Shirane's first life-size-kaleidoscope rodeo. Back in 2013, the Tokyo-based artist worked with Saya Miyazaki to create an immersive, kaleidoscopic mirror tunnel within a shipping container for the Kobe Biennale. With Light Origami, however, Shirane wanted to expand the concept to be larger and even more immersive through the construction of a dome that surrounds the viewer. Inside, it functions a lot like a traditional cylindrical kaleidoscope, except vastly larger—as viewers move through the space, their movements are reflected in the surrounding panels, shifting and altering the composition.
The ambitious project got its start when Young reached out to Shirane in August 2014, thinking the artist's work would be an ideal fit for Vivid Sydney, an 18-day celebration of light, music and ideas. After Shirane agreed to participate, Young was able to get the piece commissioned by Vivid as well as AMP's Amplify Festival, securing the funding necessary to begin work. While Shirane provided the concept and design, Young produced the installation, bringing fabricators and other partners on board to help bring the idea to life.
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What started as a team of two quickly grew to include structural engineers, lighting experts, luminaire suppliers, speaker and audio specialists and electrical installers. The global engineering firm Arup, which made its name providing the structural design for the Sydney Opera House, advised on critical structural requirements; the firms Lumenpulse and Light Project manufactured, supplied and programmed the necessary lighting. Another partner, Janz, donated all the audio equipment to be used in the installation. Young also reached out to Inga Liljestrom, an Australian-born composer, to create an original soundscape to be played within the dome.
The design for Light Origami was first modeled in CAD by Shirane before being shared with Thomas Creative, a fabricator that helped determine the best method for construction. Aluminum-composite panels manufactured by Perspex were chosen for having the right balance of strength and flexibility—crucial factors for positioning and installing the final piece. Since the installation would eventually have to be taken apart and shipped elsewhere, paneled architecture made the most sense, given its ease of disassembly and flat-packing.
"I am really careful [with] how the work feels," Shirane says. "As we know, we cannot [rely] only on a digital image. Therefore, I prefer simple structural systems realized by hand." Altogether, 320 shapes were cut from Perspex and painstakingly installed by hand by Shirane, with individual panels connected via a zipper running along the perimeter of each. More than a thousand bolts were used to further secure the structure, while projectors installed within the space cast morphing spectrums of light that move across the reflective panels. The wooden floor also has a mirrored finish; a small window that allows outsiders to peer inside is crafted from a polycarbonate plastic that keeps the illusion consistent across its surface.
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"This was a very ambitious project, as we had little time and resources," Young says. "As with any project that combines light, technology, design, music and human interaction, the aesthetic needs to hang together in an integrated way, and that was a challenge. The queues of 30 to 200 people outside the work each night showed us that we'd hit the right mark after a year of careful planning." The duo is already dreaming up future endeavors, including incorporating dimensional projection mapping into future installations. "We want to uplift and inspire people around the world with the work," Young says.
Shirane seconds that goal, and hopes that Light Origami might even improve the lives of its viewers. "The quality of a life must be discussed," the artist says. "It is important for me, as I have an architectural background, to improve the quality of life. My idea is that people should escape to an extraordinary space to recover by themselves and to be released from stressful society at any moment."
While some may wonder if entering a dome awash in moving, flashing lights is the best way to release the stresses of everyday life, you have to admit that it would certainly take you away from reality for a few minutes. Stressed-out Americans interested in giving it a try are in luck: the installation is supposed to travel to the United States in 2016; we'll post more details when we have them.