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Thursday, August 4,2011

Art that moves you

Jen Lewin’s ‘Light Harp’ requires participation

By Krystal Baugher
Jen Lewin's "Light Harp"

Our current society is obsessed with the visual — especially our entertainment — from film to print to contemporary art. We absorb so many images daily that we have prioritized one sense and left many of the others behind. But what about our other senses? Because it’s our era’s popular choice, most artists still seem to use sight as the main avenue to relay their messages to an audience.

But not Boulder artist Jen Lewin. She wants to move you. Literally. And without your movement, her work is not complete.

Lewin started out as a dancer. At 18 she realized she no longer wanted to be a ballerina and changed paths. She earned a degree in architecture; it was a way for her to mix two fields she really loved — art and science. But Lewin didn’t walk a straight line to the art world; instead she moved to Palo Alto, Calif., and got in with the computer boom. It was only after a felt-absence of the hands-on that Lewin detoured back to the art world and has been there ever since.

However, her experiences as a dancer, an architect and a computer whiz have been vital to the creation of her current work. Most of what she does are large-scale computerized sculptural pieces like “The Moths” — three huge translucent robotic moths programmed to move based on how a person moved under them — or the almost quarter-acre-sized piece called “The Pool,” 120 wireless circular pads that changed color as people jumped on, collaborated with and interacted with them.

Her most current piece is the 12th version of her “Light Harp” series, currently on display at the Light Supply show at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Englewood. The light harp located at MOA is 10 feet tall and 22 feet long. Lewin came to build these massive harps after building a regular harp when she was 19 and discovering that it sounded terrible.

“It had no resonance,” Lewin says. “I decided I wanted to build one without any strings.”

Her stringless harp became a hit in New York. She realized that without any strings, she could build a harp any size she wanted; she could make it huge.

Individuals can walk through the harp with their entire bodies or swing their hand through to play notes by breaking the light beams. What’s even more fascinating is that the harp can tell how fast a person is moving and where they are moving, which allows the instrument to create intricate, emanating sounds. The complexity of the harp makes moving and playing with the piece all the more fascinating for the audience.

Play is central to her work.

“Whether I use sound, light, or motion, my goal is to create a situation where the participants are participants. Where people can play and become part of the art piece,” Lewin says.

Another fundamental element to her work is audience interaction.

“I have a very strong desire to create an experience I want other people to have; I want to bring people together, groups together,” Lewin says. “I like things that remind us of being children, art that has a magical and playful quality.”

Currently Lewin is collaborating with the world-renowned pop-sculptural artist Claes Oldenburg (known for making large food sculptures like the spoon and cherry in Minnesota, blueberry pie in New York, etc). Together, for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, they are building a 53-foot-high sculpture in the form of a paintbrush.

“We will create several glowing forms embedded in the Oldenburg sculpture which will glow and change organically,” Lewin says. “Claes has never worked with lighting in this way.”

The work will be revealed in the fall.

What’s great about these large-scale outdoor pieces is that they include everyday people, not just collectors and gallery aficionados.

“Art needs to broaden its perspective,” Lewin says. “It needs to become more public.”

Her pieces have definitely found a broad audience, from her “Light Harps” at Burning Man to the “The Pool” at the Electric Daisy Festival to her current “Light Harp” right in the civic center of Englewood.

The work exists not just to look at, but to pull a person in, to make a person a part of the art itself. Her art triggers multiple senses, from hearing to touch and, yes, to sight. But most importantly, it reminds us to play, to slow down, to marvel in new experience.


On the Bill

Jen Lewin’s “Light Harp” will be on display at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Englewood until Feb. 25. Admission is free. 1000 Englewood Parkway, Suite 2-230, Englewood, 303-806-0444.

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