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Digital Alberta is featuring a Digital Creator Spotlight every month and this month we are pleased to highlight local artist Leah Petrucci and her installation “City Scape” in the Telus Convention Centre for the Chinook Blast winter festival. We dig deep with a Q & A and sit down with her to talk about her work and her thoughts on how digital tech tools can be used for engagement and expression in art.
Leah is a glass artist with a focus on sculptural work. Born and raised in Calgary, she earned a BFA from the Alberta University of Arts and continues to practice in her home city. She works mainly in hot glass, however, enjoys the diversity and challenge of working with other material processes as well. Learn more about her latest installation to build City Scape for Chinook Blast.
1) What inspired you to build City Scape for Chinook Blast? What was different about this art vs other work you’ve created?
‘Home’ has always been an importance influence in my work. Much of my work is centered around play and so it seemed fitting to create a piece that the audience can have fun physically interacting with instead of just admiring it.
City Scape is a homage to the people-powered vibrancy that is our city, and my home. It celebrates the youthful, playful energy that Calgarians are known for, and depicts the playfulness that defines my life with my family (of five children). The audience is invited to see Calgary with childlike wonder, as this work is represented by glass in colourful, geometric shapes reminiscent of building blocks.
City Scape emphasizes that a great city is not just to be admired from afar: it is alive because of the people in it. As people stop to experience City Scape they will look into the piece and imagine themselves living in a vibrant city full of opportunity and warmth. City Scape invites Calgarians to play and be a part of this piece as they turn the handle and watch the coloured glass city light up; representing how it is the people that make this great city turn!
This was a very different piece of work for me to create, as it involved a number of aspects which I had to learn about and collaborate with others on, including how sensors, LEDs and gears work!
2). What was the development process like? Did you collaborate with anyone?
The development process was both the fun part, and the most challenging part! I learned a ton and I was very fortunate to have such a strong support network, that could either assist me directly, or introduce me to someone who could. I wouldn’t have been able to put this project together without the help of Kathryn Blair (lighting extraordinaire), Ryan Nowak (carpenter) and Rick Wilton (laser tech).
City Scape has been constructed from both handmade blown glass and recycled glass, with bottles cut and stacked to represent our downtown core. This multicoloured glass version of Calgary’s core sits on a rotatable base (made of recycled wood shared by local contractors), and its lights are activated by sensors as the artwork is manually turned.
This was my first time creating an interactive work, and also the first time I included lights and sensors. Utilizing both of these components has been on my bucket list for a long time. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to learn and experiment with both.
2) What did you hope would be the impact of incorporating interactive tech into your artwork?
I wanted the audience to have fun and to take part in the work. After all, this was a depiction of Calgary, by a Calgarian, for Calgarians. In using the energy from the onlookers to complete the viewing experience, the message that we are all in this together is further driven home. Also, ‘play’ is a regular theme in my broader work. Participating in the works itself, gives the audience joy, as the ‘cause and effect’ of turning the piece to light it up, inevitably leads to a sense of satisfaction, and an appreciative smile.
3) How do you see technology changing the art world?
It’s the direction we are going for sure! People need stimulus and quick satisfaction. Technology advances are in every industry worldwide, so it is natural that the art world follows suit. Like CityScape, I feel that more and more projects in the art world are going to be collaborative and interactive, incorporating many different technological facets, a bit like a science experiment.
4) How long did it take to build?
I had been thinking about this project for about a year. I sourced a company to make the acrylic globe during that time. From start to finish it took me four weeks of long days to put the pieces together and get it working. To be honest, if I were to have the opportunity to build this again, I would prefer more time. However, we don’t always get to control the timeline! I was given the approval for the piece four weeks before the festival so I had to work within the time I had. It was truly a “two steps forward one step back” kind of project; one day there would be a success and then the next day there was an issue I had to resolve.
5) What’s next for you?
I plan to make a large-scale kinetic sculpture with steel and recycled glass. The sculpture will be in 3 parts, and the top will move via a thrust bearing component. I am very excited to get this started! I have applied for an artist residency at Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre (KOAC) where I hope to work on this project, with access to the equipment, tools and resources I would need to bring this to life. In the mean time I am collecting wine bottles to be used in the piece from family and friends. You can follow my progress on instagram @petrucciglass or LinkedIn @LeahPetrucci.
6) If others are interested in incorporating interactive technology into their work where would they start?
I watched a lot of you tube videos and read online forums which pointed me in the right direction. I also found that talking about my project to peers provided me with tips and guidance along the way. Also, making prototypes were key for me. I like to use found materials as we have so much waste that can be reused in so many ways. I would say my motto is… if you can envision it – then it can be done!
7) Where can people find your work?
You can find my art at sculptural glass work at Stephen Lowe Art Gallery in Bow Valley Square and Mountain Grass Gallery in Kimberely BC. You can also find me on Instagram @petrucciglass.