A new laser art installation, Southern Lights, is set to light up a section of the Congaree River beginning August 19.
The light installation, by artist Chris Robinson, will span the Congaree River between Blossom Street and Gervais Street bridges for a decade, lighting up every evening at dusk for three hours.
Made of lasers with mirrors to reflect their light, Southern Lights is a signature, contemplative piece that symbolizes the connectedness of our communities. Viewers will experience Southern Lights differently at different vantage points.
"The project offers an innovative approach to public art and celebrates and highlights public infrastructure uniquely," say project organizers. Southern Lights will be the only installation of its kind in the United States, and celebrates the work of Charles Townes, a native South Carolinian whose theories led to the development of laser technology.
Those who cross the Gervais and Blossom Street bridges or visit the riverfront regularly will be able to take in Southern Lights, and with signage and wayfinding surrounding Southern Lights to come, visitors to the region will discover this major attraction for years to come.
Artist Chris Robinson, a professor in the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of South Carolina, has completed dozens of large-scale installations in his career, most notably installations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and in Columbia in celebration of the opening of the South Carolina State Museum in 1989 and the Governor’s Carol Lighting at the South Carolina State House in 1992.
“My installations create a sculptural structure, draw attention to interesting aspects of the surrounding environment and illuminate the distinctive quality of laser light,” said Robinson. “The Congaree River is special and unusual in that it is relatively dark in the middle of an urban environment and the beams can go both under and over the bridges and the viewers.”
Robinson will have Southern Lights completely installed by August 2017, but will test the lasers along the way. Two lasers, one blue and one green, are installed at points on the banks of the Congaree River. One laser is at the City pump station below Founders Park, the USC baseball stadium, and the other is at EdVenture. A series of mirrors to reflect the lasers will be placed on existing structures, including on the rooftop of Bridgepointe Condominiums in West Columbia.
Southern Lights is a product of What's Next Midlands who, along with EngenuitySC, has handled fundraising for the art installation, which will cost approximately $120,000. The cities of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce, as well as Richland County have all provided financial support along with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. The Vista Guild, the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture and One Columbia are also all partners.
“Southern Lights is an example of our community coming together to move our region forward,” said Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC. “This will be a signature piece for our community and a must-see for tourists, and we’re proud to be formally introducing Southern Lights as part of the Total Solar Eclipse Weekend.”
Southern Lights will launch Saturday, Aug. 19 at a free, public event on the banks of the Congaree River as part of the Total Solar Eclipse Weekend celebrations. The tie-in with the eclipse means the new art piece will be celebrated by locals and tourists alike. Stay tuned to SouthernLightsSC.com for event details.
Follow the project by searching and using #SouthernLightsSC.