Who knows where ideas come from? Sometimes they seem drawn from the ether, from the indefinable essense surrounding a place and space. With LIGHT KEEPER, we began by considering light, sight, and site, especially in relation to Lake Ontario (a stone’s throw from the public work’s final resting place).

Lake Ontario is one of a handful of lakes in the world large enough to experience the pull of the moon, transpiring in tides – albeit, very small tides – a mere 1,640 km3 of lake water drawn to the gravitational pull of earth’s nearest celestial body: the moon.

Perhaps this is why we began considering the moon + the tides as elemental sisters, culminating into the two light-based elements of LIGHT KEEPER. On this blog, we’ve already shared many of our prototypes for the prismatic lenses creating the rainbow elements of LIGHT KEEPER, but the Moon Clock had its own learning curve.

Designed to mirror the moon above, the Moon Clock projects a beam onto the urban porch surrounding the structure of the artwork. Waxing and waning shapes match the phase of the moon in the night sky on any given day. The idea is that people can use the projection to chart the current moon phase: is it a waxing gibbous? Crescent? New moon? Just look at LIGHT KEEPER.

This aspect of the artwork ties into long-standing research by Caitlind & Wayne about sky glow above city spaces, and previous celestial artworks including NEW MOON.

In pursuing a moon beam, our plan seemed simple enough, involving a spotlight and mirror, a strategy as old as the pyramids. However, as with many seemingly simple pursuits, this proved more complicated than we anticipated.

In an effort to keep the Moon Clock analog, our approach was to use shaped gobos (essentially cutting the light into shapes using aluminum masks) and aim a focused beam of light at a textured mirror, reflecting a moon onto the sidewalk below.

In one of our texture experiments, we laser-etched the moon’s craters onto the surface of acrylic mirrors. The moon mirrors themselves were gorgeous, but we weren’t satisfied with the resulting reflections. They felt digital, somehow, incongruous with the intentions of LIGHT KEEPER.

Ultimately, we concluded that this photorealistic aesthetic violated the low-tech rules we created for ourselves around this project. Our priority is sculpting light using analog methodologies – with all their inherent imperfection – and the moon should reflect this intention as much as the prismatic lens.

We were interested in capturing erratics – the imperfect refractions of light from a spotlight reflecting off a warped surface. We discovered that we needed to use a custom-cut fine glass mirror for the moon itself, as even thick acrylic mirror contorted too much, and the phases of the moon would not be legible. This made capturing erratics challenging, as our mirror needed to be smooth, but refractions required an imperfect reflection surface.

Our most successful experiments (such as above) were created using impermanent materials, like aluminum-coated plastic, which would not be UV light stable outdoors.

The beam of our spotlight needed to be quite narrow to hit our 12″ mirror properly, much narrower than most gobos. The final moons were cut at a 3 mm diameter. The resulting light needed to hit the mirror at an angle, requiring a carefully measured ovular mask on the mirror to ensure a circle when the beam hits the concrete.

The final issue was the spotlight itself. LED lights are not good for refractions because they have too many light sources. When testing our moon at home, we used a spotlight with a single-source LED, but this spotlight was not bright enough to contend with an outdoor space. We didn’t realize until a few weeks away from install that our final spotlight would be brighter, but have more light sources (and subsequently less sharp erratics).

The final Moon Clock is a glass mirror, surrounded by an oval of acrylic and mirror film that acts both as a mask and an warped reflection surface to create erratics.

The stuff of science fiction, this Moon Clock captures light and contorts it in an almost analog way. The changing gobos are controlled by micro-computers and programming, ensuring the gobos align with phases of the moon for decades to come. But the reflected moon itself remains a testament to our closest celestial neighbour and the tides she pulls on the lake nearby.

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