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Innovative mural at Health/Sci rarely looks the same twice

Sep 22, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The new mural hanging in the Health and Science Center at Central Wyoming College is likely to draw a second look from passersby.

The art piece is made up of 42 eight-by-eight-inch glass tiles that create the illusion of movement as they portray objects and scenes specific to the facility and the region. The images follow a scientific theme, beginning with a single atom and eventually growing to incorporate the entire galaxy.

"This is really the perfect blend of art and science," said Kathi Miller, a community member who helped pick the artwork. "I just can't imagine a better piece."

Animation

Artist Rufus Seder said he has been fascinated by animation since he was a small child. He spoke to CWC students this week about the history of perceived motion, beginning with simple "one-two" animation.

He showed a drawing of a dog standing to the left of a hula hoop, followed by an image of the animal to the right of the circle. Shown in quick succession, the two pictures create the illusion that the dog has jumped through the hoop.

"It's image transformation, image substitution - that's what creates the animation," Seder said.

Contraptions called mutoscopes and zoetropes combine several images on a spinning wheel. When viewed through slots, the rotating images also create the appearance of animation.

Seder said many artists have created walk-by zoetropes that seem to move as the viewer moves past the installation.

The idea "possessed" his imagination, but he wanted to create something brighter that utilized light. So Seder turned to glass lenses and then cylindrical, clear rods, which he placed in front of several still photographs.

"You shine the light on it and you can focus the beam, not unlike focusing the sun through a magnifying glass - except it makes vertical stripes, and each is a scrambled image," he said. "I put (the pictures) on the wall and suspended the glass four inches in front of the wall on a string, and when I gave it a shove it came alive."

Three years later, he had designed his patented "life tiles," with multiple images sandblasted into the glass pieces so the pictures seem animated as people walk by. He has created installations throughout the world, including one at Union Station in New York City and another that appeared at the World's Fair in Hanover, Germany.

Complexity

Most of his other artwork appears in museums and at other events where most people only see the piece once, but Seder said students and faculty will walk by his mural at CWC day after day. That's why he made the piece more complex, he said. The mural features a beating heart, a DNA helix, a person jogging and a group of animals native to the region, among other images.

"You'll get sick of something that hits hard and fast," he said. "(This piece) looks different each time. ... If you look at it from far and from close up it transforms again. It changes. It's meant to be experienced."

Miller said people are likely to do more than simply look at the moving mural. She has seen videos showing public reactions to previous Seder installations, and she said the clips were entertaining to watch.

"People would walk across it, stop, continue on, and then come back, and this time they'd jump," she said. "Or they'd run and go faster, then slow down and bend their knees. It's just fascinating watching how engaged people were. And I'm just so excited to see how our people respond."

She said viewers will feel like they've become part of the mural as they walk across the Health and Science Center.

"It moves with your eye," Miller said. "As you walk across it or from side to side in either direction you can see the movement of the piece that's embedded in the tiles. ... I think there's going to be a lot of foot traffic just to see this piece."

Art professor Nita Kehoe anticipates using the piece as part of her lesson plans in the years to come, and she hopes younger art students will visit the mural, too.

"(It's) kind of like a teachable art piece, not only to college kids but to K12 students," Kehoe said. "I definitely will be taking my students to look at it. ... We're always looking for inspiration."

Public art

Geology professor Suki Smaglik agreed that the mural would attract onlookers. Smaglik, Kehoe, Miller and others on the committee that picked the piece said they wanted it to bring members of the public to the Health and Science Center, which was paid for in part through a local bond measure.

"I think it's a really good way for this building to be connected to our community," Smaglik said. "I hope it's a place people will want to bring their visitors."

She already has observed several students from other disciplines passing through the Health and Science Center to admire the piece.

"People will walk back and forth (through the center) just because the mural is there," Smaglik said. "We want that to happen."

Almost 40 artists submitted proposals for CWC's newest building as part of the Wyoming Arts Council's Art in Public Buildings program, through which 1 percent of state funding for building construction goes to the purchase of artwork for each facility. A total of $90,000 was available for the project in Riverton, and Miller said she appreciated the gesture.

"What a marvelous thing the Legislature has done," Miller said. "Art is often seen as an 'extra.' But it really is something that enhances our lives so much. And public buildings are the places to have these kinds of things."

More information about Seder's life tiles and other products, including animated children's books, is available at rufuslifetiles.com.