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This installation lit up the interior of a classic old gas station on State Street in Montpelier, Vermont.  It had been vacant for a while and was slated for demolition to make way for a new office building, but still had a lot of character.  Inside were many reminders of the people who had worked there over the decades, from phone numbers scribbled on the walls to the dusty “Made in the USA” sign that someone had taped up years ago.  On the floor was an old lamppost, still holding the now charmingly old-fashioned “full service” sign, as well as a big pile of rubble that had been dug up out front as part of the environmental remediation work that has to be done when gas stations are demolished.


I decided that the Made in the USA sign had to be highlighted with a spotlight, and saw a lot of potential in placing red and blue lights all over and around the pile of rubble.  The colors reflected in the rocks and dirt, as well as in a puddle of water at the base of the pile, created some ethereal combinations of light and color.  Green fluorescent bulbs illuminated the lamppost and a barrier of yellow lights illuminated a small room off the main garage space, and these colors combined with the red and blue to cast gorgeous, ever changing reflections on the silver foil wrapped insulation in the ceiling.


The sign that was posted with the installation, one of my periodic polemics against mixing art and politics, read:




I wasn’t going to title this installation, but after seeing the “Made in the USA” poster that’s pasted on the garage wall it got me thinking about what a fraught concept that is right now.  Since you really can’t escape politics these days, and since so much art has become political, I began to wonder what the political implications of this installation might be.  Is it a statement bemoaning the national decline in civility, as exemplified by the demise of the full-service gas station of old?  Is it a comment on the state of dread that many people feel in the wake of global warming and environmental disasters exacerbated by loosening environmental regulations?  By drawing attention to an abandoned, decaying commercial structure is it saying that America’s time has come and gone?  Or maybe it’s pointing out that America is finally ending the gradual decline that has been going on for the past few decades.  This building is being torn down in a couple of weeks to make way for a new office building and after all, isn’t it developers who are making America great again?


All this just reminds me of how much I dislike mixing art and politics.  The idea that art must have a political point of view, and if that point of view doesn’t happen to agree with mine than that art is “degenerate” and has to be ridiculed, shunned or even censored.  This installation, as far as I’m concerned, is art for art’s sake.  I want people to have their own experience of it.  Of course I also want people to delight in the things that are so engaging to me:  the reflections of light in the puddle of water, the crazy way that the colors blend on the ceiling, the small traces that remind us of the people who worked in this garage for decades.  But everyone’s experience should be personal and truly their own, not dictated by anyone else’s agenda.  And hey, if you want to reflect on environmental degradation while you look at the pile of rubble, or on how wonderful our president is, go right ahead.  That’s the freedom that “Made in the USA” ought to represent.



Many thanks to Thom Lauzon for the generous use of his building, and for his enthusiastic support for this project.


Special thanks to Jan Ruta of Jan Ruta Electric, who has been an invaluable source of guidance and support over the many years that I’ve been doing these light installations.

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