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Museum pole sheds new light


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By Hannah Smith




Ever since it was constructed in 2007, the IU “Light Totem” tower outside the art museum has drawn students at night from all over campus.

“People are attracted to light,” said Linda Baden, IU Art Museum project supervisor. “They can’t help themselves.”

Baden said she did not anticipate the strong reaction students have had to the display. While she thought students might stop to enjoy it while walking by, she didn’t expect them to take the time to stop there on the pavement, lie down and look up.

“We didn’t think the students would lie on their backs with their feet on the wall and just bathe in it,” Baden said. “We really didn’t know how they would respond.”

Junior Jordan Jalles is one of these bathers. During his freshman year, a teacher introduced him to the “Light Totem.” He is still a frequent visitor.

“I like the whole concept of making nighttime buildings more interesting, and I like the effect it has when you lay at the bottom of the wall,” Jalles said.

The student response to the lights took “Light Totem” designer and professor of lighting design Robert Shakespeare by surprise, as well. But it gave him an idea.

“Our campus is not very interesting at night,” Shakespeare said. “Part of my promise was to first of all bring the architecture of the art museum to life at nighttime.”

Shakespeare took note of this student ritual, and he adjusted accordingly. Now, two of the five shows on the “Light Totem” are actually interactive — a change that was completed several weeks ago.

“What’s different with this is he added some motion detectors,” Baden said. “So now, if you step into the pool of light, it turns on.”

The lights are also directed more downward, so light falls on the students who are “light bathing” rather than just on the wall of the museum.

Shakespeare said if one stands on certain sections of the pavement and moves around, the light show might just change in response to that movement.

However, he wouldn’t tell any of the specifics.

“I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for students to find a new position,” Shakespeare said.

Baden thinks the new features help lighten the mood.

“It’s kind of a playful interaction between people playing in the light and the light itself,” Baden said.

Several of the shows are set to silent music. Shakespeare said one might be set in rhythm to the Indiana Fight Song. Some have figured that out on their own.

“We have videos online,” Baden said. “People have put it to music.”

The “Light Totem” has drawn so much attention that it has become a meeting spot.

“I took someone on a date there once,” Jalles said. “We had food delivered, and it was a lot of fun.”

Even though Shakespeare didn’t anticipate such a strong student response to his lights, he’s trying to run with it.

“My hope is over the next while to increase that interaction,” Shakespeare said.

Jalles will likely continue to make trips to the art museum to soak in the lights. He wants to find out the parts of the landscape that make the tower interactive. He also expressed hopes that the display will grow.

“I want more towers all over campus, spreading the colors,” Jalles said.

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