Designed and built by lighting designers and artists Reinhardt Swart and Patrick MacBride, “Finding Identity” rediscovers how you identify oneself as “I”, brought to focus by the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Located in a previously abandoned space in Southwest Detroit, the contemplative art piece explores how the pandemic has shifted the balance between the interiority of our private lives and the exteriority of our public lives. To respect recommended health practices, the work is experienced in isolation or with members of the same household.

Inside a 6’x6’ (2mx2m) wide box, an indeterminate array of strings surrounds a pair of kitchen shears. The scissors spin from a singular string creating a strong visual tension between the string and sharp object, the latter typically meant to cut the very string that surrounds it. The familiar objects of our domestic life and physical distances take on a surprisingly new agency and become unfamiliar. Inspired by an excerpt from the artist’s original poem “Fragments of Memories”, which reads “Hold a long single string/cut it one hundred times/and let the pieces fall/Do you dare rearrange?/do the order of the strings concern me?/or my efforts truly matter?”, this artwork exhibits a lost sense of self – a turn inwards where we find a distorted view of time and identity.

The box’s interior is painted matte black visually erasing the corners and creating an empty void. Two 3000K recessed narrow beam louvered downlights are dimmed to provide dramatic lighting – one external and one internal to the box. By suspending specular scissors below a downlight, periodic glints of reflection shimmer off the sharp edges. Cast shadows flatten the relationship between string and scissors. The scissor’s placement within the dark box, surrounded by lit strings, simultaneously pulls one into the void yet unnervingly resists engagement.

The box’s exterior is wrapped in Mylar reflecting the contextual environment. Visitors are encouraged to interact with personal cellphone flashlights to activate the box and its surroundings with caustics and ghostly forms. Nostalgic ambient music fills the room to further enhance one’s experience.

The artists have established a dichotomy of hard and soft, light and dark, linear and curve, ethereal and abrupt. Our current social condition is realized in the aesthetic presentation of the illuminated objects: what do you do when no one is watching? Do you cut the strings? What happens when the tension is destroyed? At times, one’s focus is purely on the string and scissors; the Mylar reflects a completely dark environment veiling the enclosure. Other times, external lighting activates the box and room as an ephemeral diversion from the internal tension. Through the interaction of material, light, shadow, and reflection, layers of spatial and temporal recognition are constantly in flux and open to contemplation. In the end, “Finding Identity” is about our far too familiar anxiety with the current condition while at the same time, celebrates our common humanity and encourages empathy towards others. In realization, isolation is meant to be overcome and paradoxically, strengthen our relationships within ourselves and others.

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