Since the end of March, the University community has had the opportunity to see some of the school’s most historic buildings in a new light — literally.
This is thanks to a new projection mapping light show — created by local artist Jeff Dobrow — that has been showcased at different University locations on select nights throughout the semester. His pieces are a contribution to the “Brighter Together” art initiative presented by U.Va. Arts, the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts and the Division of Student Affairs with the goal of reinvigorating the University community through art during this particularly stressful time.
Dobrow expressed that the pieces are meant to “engage at a sensory and curious level” since “[we think a lot these days, and escapes have been pushed to their limits.” He aims “to provide an impactful, engaging distraction that leaves you with a bit of wonder, curiosity, maybe a new shared experience and a memory to draw from.”
The first pop-up display was projected onto the University Chapel on March 19 and 20 and began with a meta-projection of the Chapel onto the building itself. This alone was an impressive sight — as the lights reflected the real structure of the building so well that it appeared almost hyperreal — but it only became more spectacular as the Chapel began to break apart and reveal a shimmering, surreal sea of bright colors. The colorful mirage then morphed into a more jungle-esque scene, where a glowing tiger emerged from the greenery to peer down at the onlookers below. There was even an auditory element to the display — a fascinating musical remix that began with choral tones and shifted into a more jazzy and pulsating sound to follow the shifting visuals.
The Rotunda’s kaleidoscopic makeover — which premiered Friday and ran for two nights — was similarly gorgeous and surreal. It too started with a projection of the building’s architecture that broke apart, but it was also lit up in distinct shades of orange and red, perhaps as a historical allusion to the Rotunda Fire of 1895. Harkening back to this period of the literal recreation of the famed building also connects deeply to the rest of the display, which showed a giant butterfly amongst budding flowers — a tale of new life dawning from the old. The soundtrack that accompanied this display was as beautifully optimistic as the visuals, with a techno-operatic sound that built into a glorious crescendo at the climax of the piece. In a moment where the University is facing such constant, fundamental transformation, it is fascinating to see this installation embrace the beauty that change can represent.
Much of Dobrow’s artistic passions stem from technology-based art, which one can certainly see reflected in these exhibitions. The light displays are made with projection mapping — a technique that involves projecting light onto three-dimensional surfaces and creating an effect that really brings those surfaces to life. This has allowed Dobrow to match the lights to the building’s unique shapes in seamless and awe-inspiring ways. This infusion of the physical spaces on Grounds we interact with everyday and the surreal, technological space that Dobrow’s work has captured truly give the displays a feeling of otherworldliness that demands to be seen.
Along with featuring the same incredible technological facets, these displays also shared the aforementioned similar themes of naturalism and rebirth. The colorful flora and fauna projected activity and life onto otherwise rigid structures, thus uplifting them — and the entire campus— into the joys and changes that springtime represents. This is an incredibly fitting and remarkable message to see in a time where students are hopefully reveling in nature more often with the warmth of the new season.
In addition to the hopeful beauty of these pieces, there was another element of these shows that was incredibly striking to see — people coming together to appreciate art in a safe way. Students and community members watched the installments with their friends and family in small groups, and many went on to share their views of the spectacle with others on social media. In both physical and digital ways, this beautiful sight has certainly brought the University community together in a period so marked by seclusion. This community and the themes of renewal in the art itself, encourage onlookers to appreciate where we are and think about how close new beginnings could be.
“Brighter Together'' still has three exhibitions remaining at Cocke Hall April 16 and 17, McIntire Amphitheater April 30 and May 1, and Madison Hall May 14 and 15. The shows are free to all, and all attendees must abide by proper University COVID-19 protocols. Each show is a stunningly unique experience encapsulated in just a few minutes, so it is worth stopping by each one.