An interactive exhibit dazzles | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

An interactive exhibit dazzles

It's not sensory deprivation, or sensory overload, but sensory absorption

Ian Brill's Plume
Ian Brill's Plume

You hear Plume, Ian Brill's solo exhibit at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, long before you see it. There's a frequency as you enter the building; almost from the moment you step into the gallery you feel a vibration, and you wonder, "What the hell is that," and you follow. From far away, it beckons, drawing you up the stairs and down the hall to the furthermost corner, where it murmurs and hums. You brush aside the blackout curtain that obscures it and step into the room it dominates. And you see it.

Plume is a triumph of sound and light, a revelatory immersion that captures viewers and entices them beyond observation into participation. Constructed of tile blocks of white plastic, the rounded structure's roof arcs toward the ceiling, while a curved portal reveals a cozy interior where pillows scattered on the floor invite you in. While the pale, sloping dome at first suggests a frigid igloo, what it more accurately evokes is a sweat lodge — not because it physically resembles a smoky, incense-laden shack, but because it possesses the capacity to transform.

Inside the dome, the dome is the whole world. Lights flicker and dance in synchronized patterns of color, electricity buzzes and seethes, and the result is visceral and profound. This isn't an installation that the viewer merely interacts with; this is an installation that becomes a part of the viewer. It's not sensory deprivation, or sensory overload, but sensory absorption. The rhythm and pulse pull the viewer in, while the viewer in turn is filled with the energy engendered. The viewer and the work become connected in a mutual experience. This is a sweat lodge for a technological age, its manufactured ambience generating a heightened state of being.

This works on multiple levels, and what each individual gets out of it will depend on what she allows herself to receive. From a practical and intellectual standpoint, it's an electronically enhanced edifice with pleasing intermittent plays of noise and image, and that's one perfectly valid approach. But if you're willing to go a step further and open yourself fully, you might undergo something heightened, the work producing something dreamlike, bordering on trance: hallucinogenic, evocative and inspiring. Either way, it's a staggeringly effective work and not to be missed.

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