Pittsburgh-based new media artist Ian Brill enchants and disorients visitors with Labyrinth, his life-sized audio-visual maze sculpture on the upper level of Lawrenceville's Spirit Hall.
The structure, composed of over 2,000 luminous plastic blocks, is 9.5 feet tall and encompasses over 900 square feet. Constructed by hand and illuminated by programmable LED lights, it will be open to the public until October 31.
Labyrinth represents a deconstruction of traditional autumnal pursuits like the haunted house or corn maze. It is an exploration of the themes of Halloween -- fear, transformation and illusion -- from the perspective of our peripatetic, technologically-driven society.
The arched tunnel beckons visitors to enter. Once inside, one finds oneself awash in a series of rapidly changing light configurations. The pixelated effect of reds, blues, greens, and darkness upon the corridors is reminiscent of early Atari or Nintendo games.
The maze explores the theme of isolation versus community. On a recent Tuesday night, music spinning, and groups of friends dancing in corners, Labyrinth felt like a disco, strangely pleasant and hypnotic. In darkened silence, it can feel like a psychedelic catacomb.
Brill credits his upbringing in Manhattan's gritty East Village of the late '80s and early '90s, in an apartment above the legendary Mars Bar on Second Avenue and East First Street, as the creative inspiration for Labyrinth. "It was a jumbled, frenetic, unrelatable experience," says Brill, whose neighbors were fond of blasting the Lost Boys soundtrack (Skinny Puppy, in particular).
"I remember frantically stumbling through the East Village as a child, always looking over my shoulder, to get to Gem Spa or any other arcade game spot on St. Mark's, only to transform my mortal fears into virtual simulacra. Fear of leaving my home, anxiety in general and technology were intrinsically intwined (into some sort of neurosis.)"
A childhood fear of ghosts also inspires Brill's latest work. "I kept a copy of Leonard Maltin's movie guide with me everywhere I went, all throughout early elementary school, so I could individually check off every horror movie to get over fear of ghosts. I got remarkably far."
The maze is a collaboration between a team of five professional programmers including Sean and Steven Owens and Garth Zeglin. Parts of Labyrinth were constructed at the Penn State DigiFab facility. Friends and the staff of Spirit assisted Brill with the assembly of Labyrinth.
Whereas Halloween parties and trick-or-treating echo traditional agrarian harvest festivals meant to reinforce bonds of community in societies of the northern latitudes. Brill's Labyrinth explores the stark isolation and bewilderment characteristic of our technological age. Like the northern lights on a long Arctic night, Labyrinth alloys it with a scintillating beauty.
Information about Labyrinth can be located on Spirit's website.