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In collaboration with the 3D Design Department of The University of Iowa, two MFA lighting students designed an installation to compete in the 2015 CONNECT Contest at Chicago's SOFA Conference (Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design). Our challenge was to create an inviting space where people would be drawn to sit and connect with other artists and designers on the expo floor. As we tied with Pratt Institute for first place, we seemed to have succeeded.

The contest had a few parameters. These included seating for at least twelve people, special lighting, display space for the furniture designs of Iowa students and a constructed element which embodies connectivity. The lounge space was meant for creative thinking and networking. 3D Design was responsible for the aesthetic development and construction of the physical installation. They were interested in tree canopies and what life flourished underneath their shade and protection. What they eventually produced was a suspended canopy made from wooden dowels.

This is where our collaboration really began. Unfamiliar with the reality of safe rigging practices, the students needed help in calculating load weights and selecting the best pick points. We designed the touring rig to hang their canopy from, then we proceeded to construct the light look. Since the piece was designed to function like a tree canopy and the entire installation was beige and white, I posited the idea that through a series of sixteen cues, we view that canopy through the seasons at morning, afternoon, evening and night. The whole cycle lasted about twenty-five minutes.

3D Design came to us because they wanted something no one else would have. They had witnessed the art world's lack of color and movement and wanted to bring those elements of theatrical lighting into their world, though not so much as to misrepresent their art. This was my first foray into lighting for fine art and a balance had to be struck, namely clarity of object versus experimentation with saturation of color. With no narrative or text, our inclination was to create one, thus the embodiment of time in our design. What was especially interesting about the experience was that my fellow lighting designer and I, being present on the expo floor, actually got to witness and receive direct feedback as to whether the concept connected. We found that people would come back again and again for their favorite season, sit and take it in.


Site Specific


Fall 2015

Student Type



Copyright 2015 Alex Casillas

Photograph Courtesy of

Justin Bailey