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Southern Lights: Highlighting History, Art, and Columbia's Rivers

August 22, 2017 - Posted in Palmetto Scene by Tabitha Safdi

Brian Harmon

Southern Lights, a signature, long-term art installation by artist Chris Robinson, will span the Congaree River between the Blossom Street and Gervais Street bridges.

Southern Lights is a unique and one-of-a-kind artistic piece, largely because of its ambitious scale and artistic intricacy. Finishing the installation will require more time, but organizers expect it will be completed and operational nightly in 2018.

Upon completion, Southern Lights is scheduled to light up evenings in Cayce, West Columbia and Columbia. This installation is coming to fruition thanks to support from What’s Next Midlands, the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture, One Columbia for Arts and History and the Congaree Vista Guild.

“The Vista Guild has historically worked diligently to support artists and provide forums for their work, and we’re especially proud that Southern Lights is in the Vista,” said Meredith Atkinson, executive director of the Vista Guild. “The long-term nature of Southern Lights makes it completely unique, and ultimately this installation will add to the fabric of our neighborhood, Columbia and our region.”

With additional support from the cities of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce, and Richland County, the installation’s design is meant to connect the Midlands community. The project offers an innovative approach to public art, celebrating and uniquely highlighting both public infrastructure and one of our greatest regional assets – the riverfront. Southern Lights will be the only long-term installation of its kind in the United States, and honors the work of Charles Townes, a native South Carolinian whose theories led to the development of laser technology.

Along with the leadership and support from the surrounding cities, the Midlands business community, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and Nephron Pharmaceuticals, has stepped up to sponsor the project. Their investments will help cover the estimated $120,000 piece that will enhance our region for years to come.  

About Chris Robinson:

Robinson, a professor in the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of South Carolina, concentrates on contemporary science and technology and its role in decision-making through installations and digital drawings. He holds a BFA from Florida State and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts and is the recipient of many awards, including the Leonardo da Vinci Space Art Award and the Palmetto Pillar Award, along with many competitive art awards. He has lectured, written and exhibited extensively throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Robinson has completed dozens of large-scale installations in his career, most notably installations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (in conjunction with Rockne Krebs), and in Columbia, his light installation at the celebration of the opening of the South Carolina State Museum in 1989, and for the Governor’s Carolighting 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.” 

Southern Lights is representative of Robinson’s body of work and marks the end of Robinson’s academic career in the School of Visual Art & Design at the University of South Carolina (May 31, 2017). Robinson will become chair of the Department of Art at USC Beaufort this fall.  

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