November 15, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

An exhibition of work by Rebecca Cummins traces the movement of light to show the passing of time.

As her exhibition, “Light Work,” was being installed on the walls of the Center Art Gallery, Rebecca Cummins went shopping for a used desk. The Seattle-based artist converted the desk into a camera obscura—a contraption that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen—put it on wheels and included it in the show. “I love the dumbness of the wheels,” she said.

Cummins has made camera obscura out of a bus, a golf cart, a Winnebago (“I called that the ‘Upwardly Mobile Home,’” she said), a garbage bin, a log. For an exhibition in Italy, she made one out of a portable toilet and named it in honor of Italian artist and scientist Giovanni della Porta, a popularizer of the camera obscura.

“I called it the “Giovanni della Porta-loo,” she said. “Here, it would be the Giovanni della Porta Potty.”

Tracing light, tracing time

Cummins also uses objects—including a bronze statue of George Washington—to create sun dials. She has created whole series of discs, imprinted with images of the sky photographed at different times of day. She has created a necklace of 24 beads, painted with sky photographs to represent 24 hours. She has photographed herself sitting on a horse to trace the shadows at different times of day. She has invited friends to a “moon banquet,” where they traced the shadows of their goblets on the tablecloth at different times of night.

“I’m interested in tracing the movement of light to show the passing of time,” Cummins explained her work: She wants people to be more aware that the earth is always turning. An artist who works in many media, Cummins has a long history of working in photography. She has studied the history of optics, and her recent work incorporates scientific imaging tools. “I’m getting into an area of scientific visualization,” she said. “I use the artwork almost as a way to find out more.”

Nod to science

A professor of art at the University of Washington since 2001, Cummins earned her master of arts degree at the University of New Mexico and her doctorate in creative arts at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her work has been exhibited in Australia (where she lived and worked for 16 years) England, China, Finland and Spain.

“Light Work, which opened at the Center Art Gallery Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 17, 2011, contains Cummins’ disc series, the moon banquet and horse photographs, the rolling desk, the necklace and other works.   

“There’s a fascination with light and the movement of light …,” Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart described the show. “There’s an element of excitement and even a kind of nod to the scientific approach to light. I think people who like physics would find the show appealing.”

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