The phenomena of light: The public art of Catherine Widgery


Courtesy of University Museums

Catherine Widgery was commissioned to create the public artwork for Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center, which is slated for completion in 2020.

Melanie.Van Horn.Com

Iowa State’s Student Innovation Center won’t be completed until 2020, but work has already begun, including the selection of Catherine Widgery as the public artist who will create the new center’s Art in State Buildings component. The Iowa law states that half of 1 percent of each building’s budget must be set aside for art integrated into the building. 

Widgery works with phenomenology in her artwork, which is the philosophical study of structures of consciousness from a first-person point of view. Her career spans over 30 years, with unifying themes of light, nature and the human experience intertwining among many of her public art works. 

Cloudbreak – 2010

Light emerges through a 14-foot high wall in the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver, Colorado. The light, channeled through more than 12,500 glass tubes, serves as a metaphor for the juror selection process that goes on in this particular room. 

“Light is a metaphor for what these jurors will have to have,” Widgery said. “I wanted to find a metaphor for justice.” 

The glass tubes vary in length, creating a textured feeling similar to a cloud rolling through the wall into the room. The light shines dually through both sides so that the courthouse’s interior is lit by sun during the day, and the exterior is illuminated by indoor light at night, representing the duality of the jurors’ decisions. 

Sky Cycles – In progress

A repeating, day-after-day cycle is reflected in this in-progress work in a BART station in Fremont, California. Widgery used images taken and posted by residents of the area and wanted to create a space where different times of day and year are represented in one single work. 

Once completed, the work will contain thousands of small, thin slides with sections of the photographs. The circular formation of the work represents the cyclical sense of nature and causes the viewer to reflect on the reoccurrence of natural elements throughout time. 

Halo – 2012

Located at the Collège Bourget de Rigaud in Quebec, Halo is described by Widgery as having an “ethereal presence” and serves as “a metaphor for an elusive reality. With eight distinctly colored, rotating panels, viewers can stand within the work and alter their own reality and experience within the pieces. 

In addition to the rotating panels, the colors of the panels also change as visitors change the angle at which the light hits them. This phenomenon is created by using dichroic glass, which allows layers of metal oxides that change the transmitted and reflected colors of the glass. 

Photos of Widgery’s public art can be found on her website