The city will sparkle when a bright new light installation is unveiled on Wednesday, May 14, during the annual Spring Food Stroll in downtown New London. Dubbed “The New London Light Cube,” this is the final addition to the $1.3 million Water Street Garage renovation and $10 million renovation of the adjacent Parade Plaza.This is the third major outdoor art project for Sandy Garnett of South Norwalk. A professional visual artist, he received national recognition for two recent permanent public fine art lighting installations at the Fox Cities Building for the Arts in Wisconsin and at the Stamford train station. The project was funded through a partnership of Hygienic Art with the City of New London, the New London Parking Commission, and a major grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. Garnett talked about the creation of the “Light Cube” in a recent Day interview.
Q. How did you envision this project differently from your other major public art projects?
A. Every architectural structure has its own aesthetic. New London has a beautiful glass cube attached to a poured concrete garage, so I found it important to illuminate the prettiest part of the structure given the project parameters.
Q. How did the location in New London inspire/determine the design?
A. I was most focused on the architecture and creating a permanent fine art lighting project that would be quiet during the day and alive in the evening. I have learned that hiding the lighting components on a given structure is very important so as not to compromise the architectural integrity of a building. During the day you don’t notice the installation.
Q. What were the biggest challenges in creating the “light cube”?
A. The committee, the electrical inspector and the city in general have been very supportive of the project. I shook hands with some good police officers and explained what we were doing in New London several times, which is part of a public art project. Clear communication goes a long way. You want to make sure that if anyone has questions, you and your team will be there to eliminate any confusion and assure the city that you have been commissioned to do something good for the city and that you are doing everything safely, the right way.
Q. What was the most satisfying aspect of this project?
A. The most satisfying aspect of a public art project is two-fold. As an artist, it means a lot for a city to give you the go, and then there is the final product - a public art project, which inspires people. Without the support of the good people of New London, this project would never have been possible. Then, when testing the lighting project with committee members, there is a great feeling of achievement. There is nothing like when a committee member says, ‘This is amazing. You did it for our city the way you envisioned it when we were first talking about it. Well done.’
Q. Can you outline the phases that led up to the final installation?
A. Design and planning are crucial to a large public art project. I spent months designing the installation, then I spent months with my teammates going back and forth on all sorts of very important (but boring) details to figure out the right approach.
Phase One is achieving the project, which requires a lot of spec work.
Phase Two is design and budget to arrive at an installation that satisfies all parties concerned.
Phase Three is an expansion on the design to include all technical components of the installation.
In New London, we used RGB LED lines to create the ‘Light Cube.’ Fourteen LEDs are independently controlled by the brains of the system that I program. This means 14 cables need to power 14 fixtures. Since cables need to be hidden to preserve the integrity of the architecture, I had to design aluminum coated channels or gutters which matched the color of the aluminum framing. The LED sits in aluminum track that is affixed to the building. All of this requires a lift to reach the top of the building. Work in a lift can be challenging, but is an important component of an installation of this nature.
Phase Four is the timeline and ordering material once funds are dispersed.
Phase Five is shop work to prepare as much of the installation as possible and test it in the controlled environment of my studio.
Phase Six is logistics. This is a logistical puzzle. How many of my team members do we need on which days? Where will they stay during a one or two week installation? Do we have everything we need to perform the installation? Have we achieved the city permits so everyone is happy while we are doing the installation? Will the weather cooperate? and so on.
Phase Seven is installation, programming , trouble shooting, and running the installation.
Q. How big a team do you work with?
A. My team for New London consisted of four people on-site. Then there was the regional electrician, who was recommended to me; the committee; the City of New London; the State of Connecticut supporting the project; and numerous consultants.
Q. Is there anything you’d like to add?
A. New London has been an inspirational project, and I appreciate the city’s good energy to support my career as a fine artist.
Matisse said accurately that it’s very hard to make something so simple.
A lot of the art is ‘concealing’ the installation with these projects, so the architecture is honored and not compromised.