Christine Sciulli forced her key into the lock of the barn studio adjacent to the South Fork Natural History Museum, wiggling it into place.
In between huffs, she said, “I just, after four weeks, learned how to open this door.”
With a final jiggle, the lock clicked. Coffee in one hand, she pulled the door open with the other, pushing aside a black curtain blocking the entrance.
“Your eyes will adjust,” she said, disappearing into the darkness that she can now navigate with ease, a mastery that has come with her month-long residency—the first the Bridgehampton museum has ever offered. “Let me just turn on the projectors.”
She vanished again, waving a remote at the ceiling. “If you close your eyes,” she said from across the barn, “it will be a lot easier for you to see it. You just have to close them for 10 seconds or so. Ready?”
After a pause, she commanded, “Open them.”
And then it began.
The ceiling was twinkling. Rays of light streaming from two projectors trickled down the privet strung from the rafters, an illusion of languid fireflies caught overhead. For a few minutes, it was unclear what was moving and what was still.
On the far wall, a third projector beamed light—like a scanner—across a frame of stapled and tucked grasses, while additional projectors illuminated a workshop space in the back of the barn.
“I think the best moments for you to view it are after your eyes dark-adapt like this, but not so much that you dark-adapt and you can see everything in the space,” Ms. Sciulli mused, looking up at her creation. “It’s nice, just at this moment.”
She calls it “The Expansive Field,” an installation of projected planes of light that will close on Saturday, May 25, with a multi-disciplinary event involving composer David Rothenberg and Estonian-born performance artist Jaanika Peerna, who, when she draws, works primarily with graphite.
On Memorial Day weekend, Ms. Peerna will be drawing with light.
“In this case, it will be the human body and light meeting,” she explained last week during a telephone interview from her home in Cold Spring, New York, where she lives with her husband, Mr. Rothenberg. “And they’re very simple things, right? It happens every day, that we move within light and darkness. The light we walk in hits us in different ways and we’re catching it in different ways and reflecting it in different ways. Now, there’s less light, so there’s more magic to it.”
When the sun goes down, the audience will move out of the barn and into the museum grounds where Mr. Rothenberg will be standing by with a clarinet and one of his favorite types of collaborators: insects.
The author of eight books, including “Why Birds Sing,” “Survival of the Beautiful” and “Bug Music,” Mr. Rothenberg will wander through the fields, playing live with the bugs around (and accompanying) him while piping in a few sounds of his own.
“It’s easy to play music with birds,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “They’re singing all around. It’s harder to play music with whales. It takes a lot of work. They’re underwater. And then insects, a lot of people don’t think they’re particularly musical, although we do love those sounds—the thrumming of the crickets and cicadas. You can never predict, when dealing with nature, what will be out. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Ms. Sciulli, who lives in Amagansett, wants the audience to roam the fields, following Mr. Rothenberg and taking in the outdoor projections that will be interacting with three-dimensional huts built from the remaining privet branches.
“We made these un-private, un-shaded structures using a material that’s well-known out here for privacy. I built one, which was definitely, for me, a risk-taking experience because I’m used to being in the protective dark,” she laughed. “I basically left a giant pile of it and I told people, ‘If you want to build stuff to be projected onto, just go for it!’ So people have been building and some of them have crumbled because they don’t have engineering degrees, like me, but that’s okay!”
Growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Ms. Sciulli—who earned her Bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Penn State University, her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in sculpture and installation and her Master of Fine Arts degree in combined media and installation from Hunter College—was destined to be an architectural artist, she said. Everywhere she turned, she was surrounded by construction.
“Building things has been a big part of my life. My dad was an industrial arts teacher, so I grew up around metal and wood, being able to manipulate things,” she said. “But why I ended up going with something so hard to trap and catch and has to exist in the dark, I don’t really know. It’s sort of self-defeating because I need dark space. It’s hard to be in a group show. It sort of makes you think someone’s a control freak.”
She laughed, circling the barn and switching off the projectors, returning the space to black, just as she prefers.
“It’s funny. You learn your way in the dark,” she said.
Christine Sciulli will present a multi-disciplinary event within her South Fork Natural History Museum project, “The Expansive Field,” alongside performance artist Jaanika Peerna and composer David Rothenberg on Saturday, May 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. on the Bridgehampton museum grounds. Participants will be able to interact with the workshop space. A book signing sponsored by Canio’s will follow and light refreshments will be served. For more information, call 537-9735 or visit sofo.org.
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