Andi Steele creates shimmering, site-specific installations using little more than hardware-store materials.
For “Burst,” on view at Central Piedmont Community College’s Ross Gallery I through Aug. 7, Steele strung nearly 500 taut lengths of monofilament across the gallery, attaching them to wood panels affixed to the walls.
Steele strives to make work that she says “disrupts a space, makes the viewer the subject,” and that is precisely what happens here. You experience the work in stages, taking in its cool, industrial beauty and then moving, first tentatively and then mindfully, through it so you don’t become entangled in the strands.
Steele, an associate professor of sculpture at UNC Wilmington, has created about 20 of these monofilament installations in the past decade. Although they share common materials, each is different, responding to the peculiarities of a given space. At CPCC, for example, one wall of the gallery is windows, allowing people a view from the lobby before they enter.
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Most of the precision work happens before installation in the gallery begins. After a visit to take photographs and obtain measurements, Steele makes 20 to 30 preliminary drawings in TurboCAD; once she has settled on a final design, she assembles the support system, which is made primarily of wood and eye hooks.
At the gallery, she installs the supports; volunteers help with the stringing. At CPCC, it took one day to put up the supports and two days to string the monofilament, with five or six people assisting.
Lighting is a crucial element in Steele’s installations – it is also one of the most difficult and least predictable parts of her process. “I’m learning every time I do one. ... The translucency of the monofilament always surprises me.”
Steele must arrange the lights before she can string the monofilament – a reversal of the typical process for hanging and lighting art. And she uses whatever lights are already in the gallery.
She usually prefers diffuse light, as opposed to the Ross Gallery’s spotlights, because harsh spots can make an installation harder to view as a single entity and can hamper interaction. But here, she found that the spots enlivened the work, making it brighter and more colorful than her previous installations.
The light effects are dramatic, changing from different vantage points. As the lights hit the strands, you see colorful streams, arcs and spirals. (This is work you really have to see in person; photos don’t do it justice.)
The vitality of Steele’s work comes, in part, from the tension between her meticulous planning and the improvising that often occurs on-site.
Her CPCC installation – in which less than optimal lighting yields surprising results – is a perfect example of how challenges can create opportunities.