At Wood Street, Erwin Redl's light-based installations range from calm to capricious | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Wood Street, Erwin Redl's light-based installations range from calm to capricious

Their manufactured energy is seemingly at one with the organic forms with which they share space

Erwin Redl's "Speed Shift," at Wood Street Galleries
Erwin Redl's "Speed Shift," at Wood Street Galleries

In his own words, the work of Erwin Redl is a mouthful. As the Austrian-born, New York-based installation artist puts it in the statement for his exhibit at Wood Street Galleries, he investigates "the process of ‘reverse engineering' by (re-)translating the abstract aesthetic language of virtual reality and 3-D computer modeling back into architectural environments by means of large-scale light installations."

Over the years, his translation of a technical language has translated to his audience through a spectacular series of works that surround and embrace the viewer. From temporary pieces at the Whitney Biennial, and installations in Germany, France, Austria and Korea to "Nocturnal Flow," a permanent piece of public art created for the Washington State Arts Commission, Redl's works all possess a sense of existential unity: Their manufactured energy is seemingly at one with the organic forms with which they share space.

At Wood Street, Redl's Structures of Time and Space features two pieces, "Twists and Turns" and "Speed Shift." While joined from a perspective of practicalities, the two works build two unique environments.

The mechanics of "Twists and Turns" are fairly uncomplicated. Four lasers, in blue and red, emit pin-spot beams from their emplacements high on the gallery walls. Strung and suspended from the ceiling are small squares of acrylic plates, positioned in straight and bisecting lines. These catch the light emitted and, as they turn on their threads in the air current of the gallery, send the light flashing across one gallery wall and then another.

This simple process results in something monumental. The room is transformed, improving from a spare, white triangle into a hub of activity, ranging from frenetic to subdued. Some of the trails careen over surfaces and around corners, their trajectories quick and long; others bounce at easy tempos at slight distances. The only illumination in the room is provided by the reflections. At times, the room is cool and dim, but it remains easy to see even the transparent tiles swaying on their lines. At other moments, the laser beams slow down to complete inertia, plunging the room into a sustained moment of total darkness — and with it the viewer, who tensely anticipates the light's return.

For "Speed Shift," another spare, white rectangular room is bisected at waist height by strips of clear LED strips, illuminated in set orders and speeds. As they flare, then darken, they additionally generate sound specific to their brightening, the computerized tolling gentle and soft. Their tones are clear and murmuring, docile pulses that vary somewhat in pitch and tempo while steadfastly remaining smooth, never jarring. This effect hearkens to an earlier pursuit of Redl's: He began his academic career studying electronic composition at Vienna's University of Music and Performing Arts.

The location of these installations greatly enhances what was already intriguing. For "Speed Shift," located three stories above the pedestrian and vehicular traffic of Wood Street and Liberty Avenue, the atmosphere is heightened by the aural. Through the muted but distinct pulses of sound Redl has contributed, we additionally hear the noise of the world filtering into the gallery. The occasional, unintelligible burst of human voice, the steady rhythm of buses coming to a halt, then accelerating after they've discharged one passel of passengers and boarded another, the distant rumble of aircraft miles overhead — all provide the background soundtrack to Redl's dialogue. These unplanned sonic intrusions are a low, quiet undercurrent rather than an invasion. Counterpointing a work that is already dynamic, they make it ever-changing and unpredictable.

"Twists and Turns" is augmented by an intellectual rather than a sensory accompaniment. One views trails of light as they pitch wildly or meander softly, speeding faster than the eye can follow or gently ping-ponging in the short distance between two points. These evoke traffic, travel, pathways and circuits, and the conveyance by vehicles of humans — much like the ongoing transit below. The cumulative impression made by joining these varied journeys of light smacks of movement, activity, industry, growth and promise, starting points and destinations.

Where "Twists and Turns" is capricious and thrilling by its random nature, "Speed Shift" soothes and calms as its elements are controlled. With the same basic tools, Redl has produced two fully divergent worlds, both welcoming and intriguing but each eliciting its own specific response. Both are worth settling into.

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