Epsilon Spires Brings "Cosmic Frisson" to Southern Vermont: Art, Science, and the Environment Merge
What is "Cosmic Frisson" and why is downtown Brattleboro's First Baptist Church (190 Main St.) its home?
"Cosmic Frisson refers to the visceral experience of chills while being moved by art, music or dance—any means of communication," says Epsilon Spires' creative director Jamie Mohr. "Admittedly mysterious, it can also be spiritual—and along with being cosmic, it is also a fundamentally human response."
Epsilon Spires, the non-profit organization charged with breathing new life into the old church, aims to lure audiences to its refreshed spaces by creating ambitious programming designed to engage the community with collective experiences, to foster lively conversation and expansive thinking.
Epsilon Spires will debut its Fall season with Victoria Keddie's Electrona in Crystallo Fluenti at 8:00 p.m. on September 6 during Gallery Walk. Keddie, of New York City, works in various media and broadcast formats, exploring electromagnetic systems, media ecologies, and the machinic body. Crystallo Fluenti is a composition for sound and vision using properties of orbital debris passing over head. Much of this debris comes from rocket stages, defunct satellites, and past object-to-object collisions. The artist synchronizes signal interactions with these objects in real-time, expressed by sound and projected image.
Keddie seeks to explore the very nature of communication through contact with these byproducts of man's existence.
Victoria Keddie's program is the first of about a dozen events and performances planned for the Sanctuary and the new Social Engagement Salon community space, says Mohr. "Along with providing opportunities for 'cosmic frisson,' we also seek to reward the curious. The programming is designed to integrate various forms of media and hands-on workshops to investigate current topics. By combining the work of international artists with local innovators, we hope to provide a center for intellectual inquiry and social impact."
The current and evolving schedule is available online at https://www.epsilonspires.org/upcoming-events. Many of the events are offered for free, by donation, or on a sliding scale. "Removing economic barriers to access is a significant strategy for Epsilon Spires," Mohr added.
EXPLORING CLIMATE CHANGE AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGY THROUGH INTERACTIVE ART
Also cosmic is the idea of utilizing the building itself as a performance art piece. A permanent installation, the Weather Warlock, was installed in the bell tower in August. The Weather Warlock is an analog synthesizer controlled completely by the weather, employing sun, rain, wind, temperature, moon, and lightning to affect an F major drone chord with special sonic events occurring at sunrise and sunset. In other locations, most notably an installation in Abu Dhabi, local musicians created a piece of music with the drone at its heart. "Hearing" weather is another way to focus our attention on changes in climate.
Building owner and physicist Bob Johnson is combining art and science to create an art piece, the Sanctuary Heliostat, to provide illumination into a multimedia gallery and promote the understanding of how light waves work. Through the use of lenses and a system of mirrors, the Heliostat will channel natural light from the central steeple above, tracking solar movement over the course of the day and piping light into the gallery space below. Generous support for the Heliostat has been received from the Crosby-Gannett Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation.
INNOVATIONS IN ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEET HISTORIC PRESERVATION
Johnson purchased the church in 2016 and enlisted Delta Vermont to oversee historic renovations and improvements. Chipper Sullivan, project manager, identified roof stabilization as the first order of business. "No simple job," said Sullivan. "The project required a crane to lift a worker more than 40 feet to the main peak and even higher around the side towers to reach the affected areas."
After that, air sealing and wall and attic insulation was accomplished. "An air-to-water heat pump was installed to take the domestic hot water demand off the boiler. That, plus the enormous effort to insulate walls and attic and seal the building, resulted in immediate fuel savings: from 7,900 gallons of oil used in 2017 to 3,400 gallons used as of the end of the 2018-19 heating season," Sullivan said. According to Sullivan, efficiency efforts will continue with heat pumps and radiant heat panels, further removing the energy demands from dependence upon fossil fuels.
As creative director Mohr states, "Our concern for environmental impact is as carefully considered as our effort to bring elevated programming to fight the good fight against the current wave of anti-intellectualism that threatens to make our world smaller and more alienated."
WE ARE THE WORLD
"People in Brattleboro and our region are global citizens, participating in the effort to save the world as we want it," muses Epsilon Spires board member Gail Nunziata. "Epsilon Spires' part in this is to activate the Sanctuary and Social Engagement Salon, bringing events that highlight the environment, social justice, education, and fun." In September alone, along with Victoria Keddie, Epsilon Spires will feature storyteller and food justice advocate Amani Olugbala from Soul Fire Farm in New York State; Bill Bigelow facilitating a workshop for educators and activists about teaching climate change; and "Cosmos with Cosmos," the start of a series pairing classic episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos with thematic cocktails from local mixologists. Other September events include Alloy Orchestra playing a live original soundtrack to the 1929 Soviet masterpiece Man with a Camera and an Experimental Gamelan Festival.
"We consider the church's Estey Organ to be a meaningful community asset," Nunziata added. "Our first presentation on the organ will be in December, with Alexander Meszler performing a multimedia composition raising awareness of the negative environmental impact of a U.S.-Mexico border wall." Nunziata continued, "Cross pollinating art, science, and social impact is our mission. Bringing economic impact to the region with innovative programming, coupled with preservation and creative reuse of this significant building, is our part in helping to save the world."
Sidebar #1: NATALJA KENT'S "MOVEMENT ARTIFACT" EXHIBIT OPENS SEPT. 6
In her latest body of work, Natalja Kent upturns the conventions of photography by removing the camera altogether. These sensuous, large-scale color fields are inhabited by dynamic geometric abstractions that seem suspended mid-motion. Angular bands of brightness and shadow clash and gather with a dynamism suggestive of an animating force that remains just out of sight. That generative motion is the artist herself, who produces these images by the direct application of light to the paper in the darkroom. Using flashlights and colored gels, she dances around the plane of each piece building the images cumulatively with beams of light that activate the silver halide crystals to produce jewel-deep colors on the paper.
Natalja Kent is based in Los Angeles, Calif. Dedicated to collaboration and feminist social practice, she has worked in groups such as the Los Angeles Women's Center for Creative Work, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, The Dirt Palace, and The Good Good. She has exhibited and performed at Tate Liverpool, The Carpenter Center for The Visual Arts at Harvard, Hiromi Yoshi Gallery, and MOMA PS1. Ken's "Movement Artifact" is showing through November 1 and is open during Gallery Walk and public events hosted by Epsilon Spires.
Sidebar #2: PUBLIC ART LIVENS UP OLD SHED
Epsilon Spires and Brown & Roberts Ace Hardware have collaborated on the transformation of a metal storage shed, thanks to the talents of Northampton muralist Kim Carlino. Celestial Charting of a Wandering Line, created with paint donated by the store, is "a much more intriguing view out our window," says Epsilon Spires' creative director Jamie Mohr. Carlino uses the language of painting and drawing to improvise and intuitively build the composition of her murals. Shifts of scale, opticality, illusion and disillusion of space create a nonlinear construction of time, using abstraction as a metaphor for navigation between balance and imbalance.
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