'Shadow Dance'  
news and press

o you know what an eclipse is? It's the exact alignment of the sun, moon and earth. Captivating as this simple fact is, the multisensory experience of this alignment is even more wondrous. Shadow Dance, the newest exhibit at Chabot Space and Science Center atop the beautiful hills of Oakland, offers you a glimmer of that awesome human experience of nature's rhythms. The collaborative work, designed and produced by local artists JoAnn Gillerman and Rob Terry, is a state-of-the-art installation that morphs art and science. There is no mouse or keyboard. You and your homies directly interact via a multi-channel, twelve-monitor computer program by walking, dancing or rolling your wheelchair around on three floor sensors. The sensors, attractively embellished by backlit images of sun, moon and earth, enliven the installation's stage. Your personal choreography re-creates eclipses (solar and lunar) on the monitors, simultaneously evoking individualized mixes of aural and visual imagery. Anyone with a sense of play will be delighted by this mode of acquiring knowledge. This is "community-based" art at its best.
   Not only is Shadow Dance informative and pleasurable, its special allure also rests on the uniqueness of its subject. Wendy Coones, exhibits specialist at Chabot and an artist herself, points out that early in the planning Chabot realized that "eclipses" due to their very nature, would need to be represented from various perspectives that include (even highlight) the aesthetic view. Mike Reynolds, Chabot's executive director who chanced to meet Gillerman and Terry at several such planetary events, had the insight that a collaboration to celebrate their mutual interest was called for.

  You'll have the opportunity to walk virtually the full length of the impressive, newly renovated Chabot Center and across the new "skybridge" to arrive at Shadow Dance. Its poetically backlit floor images lure you as the sharp realism of the images of its flat-screen monitors beckon you closer. The scale of this installation is, quite wisely, human and unintimidating. You begin to create a rhythm that suits you to access visual and aural information. By figuring out the alignment of celestial bodies-or by chance-your physical motion creates a simulated eclipse. Your visual attention alternates between the complex imagery of the lower six monitors and video footage of the various total solar and lunar eclipses projected in the higher register of rectangular frames.
  A banquet for the senses is served up; the combination of delectables is your pick. And it can change during each visit. Shadow Dance participants can choose to privilege the artist's viewpoint presented in photographic, video or digitally treated visuals. Or you could focus your attention on listening to recorded anecdotal accounts of eclipse enthusiasts, explanations of the phenomena presented by experts from the scientific community, or seductive narrations of stories recounting poetic myths conjured up by nonwestern cultures to celebrate their experiences.
  My favorite among the latter is that of the Olmec peoples of Central America for lunar eclipses. For these Americans, a powerful, sky-abiding jaguar attacks the moon from time to time. Their gods and goddesses were compassionate, and, rather than leave folks in the dark, escorted the moon back to her sky and rekindled her each time. The beauty here, to me, is that the Olniecs thoroughly understood the science of lunar eclipses. They could even predict them. Yet they sense no inherent conflict between the poetic account and the scientific one. They were two equally valued modes of awareness of the same natural phenomena. Shadow Dance's melding of scientific and artistic evocation suggests a reinstatement of that combined and, thereby, expanded perception.
  What also sets Shadow Dance apart is its selected context. Most spaces that display installations with aesthetic aspects -museums or galleries (even contemporary ones)- prescribe your role as a relatively passive observer. Here at Chabot you are envisioned as a participant. The new installation, Shadow Dance, is successful not only because it lures you to collaborate (to work to gain knowledge) with artists and scientists but even more so because it virtually "shows you the door." The wondrous images and astounding personal accounts encourage you to get back outside in nature and experience this and other cosmic phenomena firsthand. By enacting the re-creation of this theatrical view of cosmic magnetism, you are instilled by a new -or renewed- respect, reverence and awe. This response to nature is more than appropriate, it is necessary at this particular historical juncture.

-Celeste Connor

Shadow Dance: The Interactive Eclipse Exhibit by JoAnn Gillerman and Rob Terry is on permanent exhibit at the Chabot Space and Science Center, 10902 Skyline Blvd, Oakland.

Celeste Connor is a freelance writer based in the East Bay.

Review of "Shadow Dance" Eclipse Exhibit
February 2002 (Vol. 33)

Review of Viper Vertex's Science/Art Interactive Eclipse Exhibit at Chabot Space and Science Center, Oakland, Califorina.