Sculptor Kenneth Emig is really a magician. Savouring his handiwork is like watching a truly professional magic act in which you are constantly torn between simply being thrilled with the experience and obsessively trying to figure out how it all works.
Emig’s art is all light and mirrors bundled up in what he calls “architectural light boxes.” Think of when you were last at a clothing shop, tried on a new outfit, admired yourself in a mirrored alcove, and suddenly saw your reflection again and again, right into infinity. Now, reduce that kind of experience to a large box, suitable for hanging on a wall, and you have Emig’s magic art. You could even call it kinetic art because what you see hanging on the wall contains “fictional space” that becomes “elastic space” that stretches into infinity and shape-shifts depending upon the angle you are at and the intensity of the light in the room.
Back in the 1960s, there was movement called “op art.” Those works were usually paintings of mind-bending geometric shapes that seemed to dance before your eyes. Emig’s work is like that but in 3D, a sensory experience that stretches the conventional definitions of art.
An exhibition of Emig’s unusual work titled Equinox runs from March 21 to April 9 at Galerie St. Laurent + Hill in the ByWard Market. Emig gave me an advance peek at the works while they were still at his studio at Enriched Bread Artists. He was planning on putting eight works in the exhibition. The biggest, when installed on a wall, is shaped like a diamond 78 inches high and 78 inches wide. The rest look about half that size.
This is Emig’s first major solo show in the Ottawa area since 2007, when he took over the vast exhibition spaces of AXENEO7 in Hull. More recently, in September 2011, Emig exhibited work in the Moscow Biennale. This coming summer he will join other Enriched Bread Artists for a show in The Netherlands.
Emig’s architectural light boxes are made of wood that have been painted black on the outside and either red, orange, or bluish-mauve in the inside. Light fixtures of two concentric circular fluorescent tubes are hidden in the box. When the tubes are lit, they interact with strategically placed mirrors so that the viewer sees reflections of reflections stretching to infinity.
This is art for the whole family. Even young kids should enjoy the show. But they will surely start asking their parents how exactly these things work.