The courtyard entrance to the newly renovated Metcalf Laboratories is now transformed into slanted mirrored glass installed over the rectangular incision of the floor. The new feature is a public art installation, called P-131317 - an architectural intervention created by artist Sarah Oppenheimer '95 with collaborators David Botts and Yuri Wegman, who assisted with the installation's construction.
The transparent glass creates disorienting and perplexing illusions that blur the physical boundaries between the building's walls, basement level and the outdoors. Walking through the entrance feels unique and different every time, depending on the time of the day, the amount of light and people's movements reflected in the oblique glass.
"The relationship between the general, repetitive motifs of architectural space and the specificity of these motifs in the built environment is an underlying framework of my work," Oppenheimer said.
The holes, such as the incision of the first floor, function as catalysts, she said. They reconfigure the standardized planes, such as walls, ceilings and floors, and enable the flow of light, sight and motion between discrete spaces, she added.
For this particular installation, Oppenheimer said she considered the "specific spatial array" of Metcalf and examined how a hole through this array would impact the perception of the space.
The idea of perception inspired Oppenheimer several years ago when she discovered the work of William Warren, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences. Warren's work clarified her understanding of the perception of spatial reconfiguration and impacted the direction of P-131317, as well as her other work in general, she said.
Oppenheimer's work is perfectly appropriate for Metcalf, said Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery and the curator of the exhibit. When choosing artwork to install, the Public Art Committee begins by thinking about where the work will be located, she said. For each new building on campus, the committee uses the allocated budget to spend on the building's art and design. Oppenheimer's work matches the research about perception in the cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences in Metcalf, she said.
The courtyard entrance is a good place for installation, because it is "a common area where everyone passes through," Conklin said.
Installing in the courtyard had some challenges, "from the complexity of installing large scale pieces of glass on a sloped angle to mathematically modeling how the material deflection would impact image distortion," Oppenheimer said.
Working on the project enabled her to extend her ongoing investigation into glass' ability to function simultaneously as a mirror, window and boundary plane, she added.
Both Conklin and Oppenheimer recommended looking at the different reflectivity of the sloped glass. "The experience of the work changes drastically as time passes from daylight to dusk to night," Oppenheimer said.
With the bright daylight, when viewed from the lower level, "the piece is a perfect periscope (and) the building appears to fold at a right angle overhead," she said. When viewed at night from outside, the piece is transformed into a translucent periscope, and the view of the basement floor is projected on top of the frontal view into the building, she added.
"It was wonderful to return to campus and to see the piece inhabited by others," Oppenheimer said. P-131317 will remain as a permanent installation in Metcalf.