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Barry Underwood's Luminescent Landscapes

Photographic light installations create cosmic scenes at Johansson Projects

by James Thorne in Culture on 06 June 2013

In conjunction with an installation by Sarah Kabot, Johansson Projects in Oakland, CA is presenting new work by photographer Barry Underwood. The exhibition, called "Trace Artifice," shows the artist at work again creating otherworldly light installations in remote spaces. From the forests of Vermont to ammunition storage bunkers in Wendover, Utah, Underwood has enhanced natural landscapes through night images that burst with light and color.

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Mostly created during residencies at artist retreats like New Hampshire's MacDowell Colony, the works show off Underwood's ability to source locales across North America. Joining trees and lakes are altered urban landscapes that glow with rays and orbs floating among the architecture. Leveraging a background in theater and photography, the artist makes his light installation with surprisingly low-tech resources. Simple items like glow sticks illuminate the surroundings thanks to prolonged exposure times and the aid of astral and solar sources at low light periods.

While the process is often unglamorous—shooting for hours on end in knee-high water or on frozen fields—Underwood insists that the ethereal quality is as real in person as it is in the photographs. Walking through light installations with fellow artists, he is able to get feedback before committing to the shot. Because many of the light sources are temporary, there is a sense of urgency for the photographer, who knows that the scene can only be captured once. What's more, Underwood is restricted to a short window of time after the sun has set and a faint light lingers on the horizon.

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Classification is a difficult thing for the artist, who spans sculpture, installation and photography in his work, although he insists the process is unrelated to light painting. Rather than moving the light, filters and other transparent objects are used to shape it for a desired effect. When done well, the alien landscapes take on a bioluminescent quality that makes viewers feel as though the glowing is representative of a greater design. At times peaceful, the light can also hint at unnatural disturbances and creeping invasions of the scene.

"Trace Artifice" will run at Johansson Projects through 18 July 2013.

Images courtesy of the artist and Johansson Projects

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