The Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, N.Y. has always provided an environment that dancers could use as a retreat through its residencies. This summer, however, it’s offering dancers and audiences something even more vital – a venue for dance performance. The Kaatsbaan Summer Festival features weekend dance performances from Aug.1 to Sept. 27, 2020, on an outdoor stage. A key component of that experience is a light and sound installation entitled, In light: of the time, which uses projected art and poetry to express the impact that police violence continues to have on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
When Lighting Designer Brandon Stirling Baker accepted Kaatsbaan’s first lighting design residency, they charged him with creating some sort of sculpture of light. Then George Floyd was murdered, and Minneapolis was engulfed in flames and rioting. “I was in no mood to decorate,” Baker said, “I was in no mood to uplight a wall and call it art.” Then he participated in a Black Lives Matter protest, which inspired him to change his approach to his Kaatsbaan project.
After realizing that he could use the opportunity of his lighting design residency at Kaatsbaan to make a statement and promote change, Brandon also recognized that he “was certainly not the person that should be saying the things that need to be said.” Instead, he assembled a collective of BIPOC poets, visual artists, composers, and lighting designers to help him. He worked with Playwright and Poet Carl Hancock Rux, Poet and Choreographer Hope Boykin, and Illustrator/Choreographer Jamar Roberts to create poetry and art that would tell the story of their truth in that moment. His plan was to turn those stories into Custom Black & White Glass Gobos and project them onto the ceiling of a barn that was near the Kaatsbaan entrance. The installation was strategically placed on the path to the stage so that the audience could experience In light: of the time before and after the performance.
Baker also acknowledged that he should not be the one projecting these stories. “It needed to be a designer of color,” he determined, “and who better than my friend, Lighting Designer Alan C. Edwards, who was a major influence and inspiration behind this project.” When Baker approached Edwards about the Kaatsbaan light art installation, he responded:
“The ‘why’ and the ‘what’ were what was most important to me. This thing is not about light. Light happens to be the thing that allows us the flexibility to put the idea where we want it. We don’t want people walking through and looking at some pretty colors—that is so NOT this moment. We need people out there marching. We need people calling senators. We need to light some fire. And pretty colors on a barn was too abstract. In my mind I was like, ‘Let’s just project the phone number of who to call on the side of the building.’ This project needs to cause action. It can’t just be pretty. What do we have to do to get people to act? If we have this opportunity, and we can use it to make people act, then let’s do that.”
What began as a light art project had evolved into an outlet where BIPOC artisans could create luminous poetry and imagery that would capture their thoughts and feelings about the world we live in today. “None of these artists have ever seen their work in light,” noted Baker. “It’s an opportunity for these artists to literally project their voice and their words into a physical space.”
Playwright Carl Rux has seen his words in print, and he’s heard them performed on stage, but he’s never seen them glowing on a wall. The gobo designs provided by Jamar Roberts are his own personal drawings. “What’s kind of amazing about this project is that this will be his debut,” Baker explained. “People only really know Jamar Roberts as a choreographer; they have never had the opportunity to see his drawings as an artist. It will be the first time he has publicly shown his drawings. That’s a big deal for any artist, to show their work for the first time.” The same can be said for the projected poetry from Hope Boykin, who is a dancer and a choreographer that also composes poetry. Her work has never been seen in print – much less projected in light.
“This installation is not about the physical light, it’s about the projected image,” Baker stated, recalling how, originally, In light: of the time was going to be installed in one of the Kaatsbaan dance studios. The Covid-19 health regulations shifted it to the Eleanor Roosevelt Barn, which is more of an open-air space. “The audience walks through this wide-open hallway that is surrounded by luminous poetry and art on the walls around them, and the ceiling overhead.”
In light: of the time at the Kaatsbaan Summer Festival runs until September 27, 2020, but it’s just the beginning. Baker has established the In Light Collective to become an amazing opportunity for BIPOC artists across the United States to project their story in light. Lighting Designers Itohan Edoloyi and Rachael Blackwell have already joined the In Light Collective to create new installations in Harlem, Brooklyn, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Be sure to visit inlightcollective.us for information on upcoming installations.