Mark Sloan was first introduced to Erwin Redl when the artist was chosen to work on Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, a public art project in the conservative heart of the Upstate that the Halsey director was working with. Redl collaborated with the city to design and develop LED light installations which would not only help beautify the city but create safer, more vibrant neighborhoods. Although Sloan was already aware of Redl’s work when they met, the encounter ultimately led to Redl’s latest installation Rational Exuberance, which opens this week at the Halsey.
Redl’s LED works are a blend of science and performance art, as well as an exploration of space through subtle color shifts, and it’s all geared toward creating a sense of wonder. He thinks of pieces as a flock of birds or a school of fish and himself as something of a conductor. “There is a synergy between distant elements that form a greater whole,” he says. “I try to tap into the idea in my work like in an orchestra. There is a common will that brings people together.”
The Austrian-born Redl studied music composition and electric music at the Vienna Music Academy and earned his MFA in Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Later, as an artist-in-residence at the MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, he was introduced to the work of Fred Sandback, a minimalist sculptor who stretched colored acrylic thread from floor to ceiling to create immersive experiences. Redl was “blown away” by Sandback’s work, adding, “I got goosebumps and went back to my studio and put away my computer.” From that point onward, he adopted a similar methodology.
Over the years, he has created short- and long-term installations across the country (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans) and around the world (Turkey, Austria, France), and he says the process is extremely intuitive. Once he has discovered a location, the next step is to figure out the logistics, something he does with MacGyver-like ingenuity. Structural engineers are hired for large outdoor installations and drawings must be submitted for approval. He’s learned by trial and error over time, and says one project was destroyed by heavy snow in Toledo, Ohio. The reality behind these magical, sensual, evocative pieces is a lot of less glamorous repair work.
The end result is art that is truly accessible to all. There are no signs saying “don’t touch,” no ropes keeping you from getting too close to Redl’s works. The installations are participatory, and once complete, he stands inside the space to observe viewers as they enter. “People become uninhibited. Each person brings an aura to the space. You are no longer Sue Johnson who has to get up and make the kids breakfast,” he says. He concedes that his projects are difficult to put into words and rather are “in-the-flesh experiences,” something that anyone who visits his Halsey installation will surely attest to.
Admittedly, Redl says there is a danger of his work being too “new-agey.” However, his goal is to keep it pure and simple. The installations are soundless and somehow when people enter, they know to keep quiet. People have even asked if they can perform yoga inside an installation. “I try to keep the transcendental word out of my vocabulary because I don’t want to operate in that realm,” he says. “I’m interested in the primal experience and if people have a spiritual experience that’s fine. I respect that. It’s just not my intention.”