With Bells On

Last week, we traveled to Savannah, GA in search a light-worthy site. Since we were unable to do our planned light installation in Southern Pines (security asked us to leave our designated site), we decided to do two separate light works in Savannah. We came to this charming southern river town thinking that we would do a light installation in the Bonaventure Cemetery. Instead, we were drawn to bells. 

The first installation was at the Old City Exchange Bell, one of three historic Bay St. Memorials. Believed to be the oldest bell in Georgia, it was imported from Amsterdam in 1802. For close to 100 years, the bell served as a fire alarm, was often used in celebrations and tributes for fallen heroes, and signaled the closing time for stores. Once an important contributor to the hustle and bustle of 19th century Savannah, the bell now stood dormant… only a reminder of what once was. 

Upon seeing this bell, we felt a strong connection to it's current state of neglect. Once the lights came on, people who had never noticed it before suddenly flocked to it. They stopped to read about it's history. One gentleman, who lived in Savannah, stopped and asked, "has that bell always been there?"

Some people didn't even know that it existed!

Our second stop was a one octave set of percussion bells at Forsyth Park, another gem of historic Savannah. Chalked full of lofty trees laced with spanish moss, gushing fountains, and still more memorials, Forsyth park is a main hub for social engagement in Savannah. 

Although the bells were installed with public interaction in mind, it seemed that they were more of a sculpture than an instrument. Our interest in this set of chimes was two fold. First of all, we wanted to use the lights as a catalyst for public engagement with these lonely bells . Secondly, we sought to explore the concept of synaesthesia, the color organ, and visual music.

The idea of light and sound as a collaborative pair is a popular trend in both contemporary visual art and music. However, this is not a new notion. Engineers, artists, and inventors from as far back as the 16th century have been intrigued by the idea of music and light intertwining to create a synaesthetic experience. In the mid-1700s French monk Louis Bertrand Castel created one of the first ocular organs- an instrument with 60 colored glass panels, each with a curtain that opened upon the striking of a corresponding key. In the 1800s, Bainbridge Bishop patented his first color organ, an amazing specimen which projected colored light onto a screen as music was played through the organ. Many others, including Alexander Scriabin, who wrote a synaesthetic symphony titled Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, investigated the connection between light and sound throughout the 19th and 20th century. Today, we explore this notion of synaesthesia to an extreme degree thanks to an abundance of modern visual and audio technology.

Our work, while it did explore light and sound in combination, was not so concerned with the light responding in accordance to sound. Rather, we wanted to investigate the impact of light on people's desire to play the instrument.      

Interestingly enough, one passer by stopped and exclaimed, "I want to hear what the color blue sounds like!" We assigned cyan to the note G and dark blue to the note A. Still, others approached the bells, excited to play. They claimed that the lights drew them to the bells and made them want to play- something they said they did not experience previously. WE even felt more inclined to play these public bells once they were painted with light! So, we did...

Our time in Savannah was brief, but bountiful. Not only is Savannah a city with an abundance of history, but it is also a fertile ground for creating and experiencing art. Savannah, light was here! Now… on to the Florida Pan Handle.