Review: Chris Fraser's "In Passing" at Disjecta

Fraser's light installation is a interactive playground of color and shadow that's sheer joy for all ages. See it before it closes Sunday.

By Aaron Scott March 6, 2013

Chris Fraser’s In Passing closes this weekend, so let’s cut to the chase: if you haven’t seen it, you need to load the family in the car, grab your Max pass, or hop on your rain-slicked bicycle and peddle your winter-light-craving self up to Disjecta—double time. This is one of those rare shows capable of generating sheer and utter joy across demographics, from stodgy art veteran to those who find art inaccessible and pretentious to seven year olds. 

The site-specific project by the Bay Area-artist is an immersive experience that's like walking into a giant light spectrometer or physic's famous Young's slit experiment. It's a seemingly simple installation that transforms light into an exquisitely exact but interactive playground of color and shadow, where the colors becomes as tangible as paint, and the work reacts to you at every turn.

The installation can be broken into two interacting spaces. In Disjecta’s large, warehouse gallery hang three pendant light fixtures at chest level: one red, one green, one blue. Left alone, the colors blend. They only becomes exact and defined in relationship to the bodies moving through the space, causing your shadows to skirt and fly across walls—converging, diverging, and most stunningly, multiplying and overlapping in different colors.

The second component is a hallway built around three edges of the room. As you move through the darkened first leg of the hall, five horizontal planed slits cut into its inner wall (marvels of drywall work in themselves) diffract and isolate the main room’s three colors of light so that they shine through at different angles, creating precise lines so vivid that they seem to be applied with glow-in-the-dark tape.

The uniform matte white of the hallway creates the illusory effect of a soft haze at the first corner that grows around the bend into an overwhelming disbelief that there’s not a fog machine. The haze obscures the second hall’s planes and angles, transforming it into a strangely indeterminate space, a fuzzy void, where the only definition, the only angles, and the only hint that you're in a room at all are the strips of light shining through a single diagonal slit.

In Passing
Fri–Sun noon-5
Thru March 10

Then you turn the final corner to the third leg, where whole chunks have been cut out of the wall, creating a fascinating play on modernist Color Field paintings as the light shines in from the main room. The different placement of the lights create strictly defined blocks of color in an amazing range of hues, like a luminescent Barnett Newman painting, although their borders shiver slightly, overlapping each other, as the pendant lights sway.

Fraser’s installation recalls the light art of Light and Space artists like James Turrell (not to mention the more contemporary work of Olafur Eliasson). But whereas their installations tend to be solemn, sublime spaces meant to be overpower the viewer like a spiritual epiphany, In Passing is at heart an interactive experience that truly comes to life only with people moving through the room. In the second hall, the black silhouette of a person provides an incredible contrast to the hazy indeterminate space. In the third hall, the color blocks flicker, dance, change color, and disappear as people move about in the big room, blocking and shadowing the various lights. And then, of course, the main room is a paradise of possibilities for a shadow-puppet show, so pack props and bring companions.

In any other exhibition titled In Passing, the name would seem to reference the temporal impermanence of the work (and certainly that’s relevant here: it requires but the flick of a switch to disappear), but in Fraser’s project, it’s a celebration of the verb. There’s an incredible pleasure to be experienced, and art to be made, in passing through this installation. It's one of the best shows to ever fill Disjecta, and likely one of the best to brighten Portland all year. Don’t miss out.


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