Thursday Salute to Originals: Cosmos

Rarely in today’s times do people get a chance to see the stars. Whether it be from city light pollution or simply a lack of time, it’s not often that we gaze into the night sky and peer into the grand play that is the universe. The “Cosmos” lighting simulation by Leo Villareal may not encapsulate the entire universe but it does give us the opportunity to see what’s out there.

Cosmos Lighting Installation by Leo Villareal

The interactive lighting installation, located at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, was constructed to pay homage to the university’s late astronomy professor Carl Sagan. Composed of over 12,000 LED’s wired in a grid, Villareal programmed the exhibit to display the heaven’s illumination patterns. The software, created by Villareal himself, generates various shapes and forms to create a very unique light show. “It is especially exciting to view the installation at nighttime, when the patterns of light make the ceiling disappear and turn it into a void—light trumping matter,” said Andrea Inselmann, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Johnson Museum.

LED Lighting Ceiling Stars

A zero gravity bench, 25 feet long, was designed by the artist for viewers to fully immerse themselves in the experience and to facilitate a more communal involvement with the installation. “The challenge for me is to find a way to do it that respects what’s here but that adds another layer that can really invigorate the building and make people look at it in a new way.” Said Villareal. The installation measures in at 45’ x 68’ and is mounted on a high ceiling of the Sherry and Joel Mallin Sculpture Court to provide pedestrians clear visibility to observe from below.

LED Lighting Installation Art

The initial development of the exhibition began almost three years ago in November of 2010 when Villareal, along with project architect Walter Smith, AIA LEED AP, and donors Lisa and Richard Baker, collaborated with the Johnson Museum to find a suitable location for the installation. “It’s almost like a musical instrument that you have to tune and get just right,” said the artist. “It’s a process of discovery, because I don’t know in advance what it’s going to be.”  In this case, does context create originality?