By TARA BENNETT
Arts & Culture Staff Writer
Visitors to the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum (LASM) will be thirsting for a cup of coffee after seeing artist Jonathan Brilliant’s installation piece entitled, “The Red Stick Piece.”
Through a partnership with LASM, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the LSU School of Art, Brilliant served as artist in residence for two weeks from March 25 to April 2. The residency and exhibition are made possible thanks to the generous support from Matt and Catherine Saurage, Ritter Maher Architects and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Upon his arrival, Brilliant began his installation in front of anyone who visited the gallery to watch and track his progress. Being watched as he worked was nothing new for Brilliant, who was used to as it is a part of the process with this type of artwork.
“When you work on this large of scale, when you build on site, you’ll almost always be in a public place,” said Brilliant. “I feel just as comfortable working in a gallery as I would my at home desk.”
During his time as artist in residence, Brilliant utilized five cases of coffee stir sticks and four cases of coffee cup sleeves, stacking, weaving and arranging each item into a monumental installation held by sheer tension without the use of any adhesives. The exact final number of stir sticks used is unknown, but it is estimated to be at 50,000.
“I break a lot as I go, so it’s not like a jar of jellybeans where you can guess an exact number,” said Brilliant. “Over the years, I know that anywhere from four to six cases will allow me to build a certain sized object.”
Along with the exact number of stir sticks, Brilliant believes the total amount of time spent on the installation equaled a week.
“We’ll call it a week because I don’t count the hours,” said Brilliant. “When I get here, I just sort of know the task. I know I’ve got to get the show up and finished and lit and installed in time before an opening.”
The work behind Brilliant’s series of installations is meant to complement and accommodate their future spaces, creating a relationship between the presentation space and the artwork. LASM sent pictures of the gallery space, along with a floor plan to Brilliant, who took that information onto printer paper to sketch down the overall sense of what gestures and movements he wanted to create within the space.
“Whenever I’m invited to create one of these works, I will ask the venue for as much information as possible about the space I’m going to work in,” said Brilliant. “I’ll make drawings, gestures, shapes and kind of try and figure out what I want the complete effect of the show to feel like. So in that sense, I treat the show just like a drawing on a piece of paper.”
It was the view of the Mississippi River, which would ultimately choose the course of the installation.
“The view of the river dominates the space, and the wall drawings play with the river’s horizon line, and the piece mimics the movement down the river,” said Brilliant. “So the piece, in a sense, is all headed down river.”
Though the installation is now in its finished stage, Brilliant still believes the public should come out and see the work even if they may not see him.
“The only hope of anyone who works on large scale public work is that the viewer will come out and see it in person,” said Brilliant. “I think too often people assume that if they’re seen documentation of a work, they’ve experienced it, but I love time and time again people come, they see a work and they always tell me it looks so much better than the pictures. It’s a testament to why you should get out and see things in person.”
Already, visitors to LASM are standing in awe over the finished installation.
“I just love that he took something so ordinary as a coffee stirrer and made a work of art, it’s just amazing. It just helps me look at everyday objects in a new way,” said Jane Springer, a Baton Rouge native who enjoys coming to LASM when the new exhibits arrive.
“I would love it if I could go to work and do that all day,” said Jenn Prochaska, an art teacher at St. George’s Catholic School.
After the installation is finished, the stir sticks and coffee cup sleeves will be reused or recycled. The installation will continue to be on display at LASM until June 29.