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Aurora Almanac captures ideas and identities using geometry and light

a panel from the Trades Dist art installation Aurora Almanac

A panel of the Aurora Almanac art installation in Bloomington's Trades District garage (Devan Ridgeway WFIU-WTIU News)

Looking across an empty lot at 11th and Rogers streets in downtown Bloomington, you can see a multicolored glow rising through parts of the city’s new Trades District Garage. It’s called the Aurora Almanac, and it might just provide a window into the inner thoughts of your friends and neighbors.

The art installation is made up of panels of white tiles, lit above and below with colored lights that change slowly over time. In describing the project, artist Esteban Garcia Bravo said he wanted to both spark self-reflection and create excitement for something as mundane as walking up and down stairs.

The message, he said, is that every day is different. And the art reflects that through a variety of shapes and textures, and through the colored lights that flood each panel, then change.

“I mean, hopefully, it won’t be the same as when you parked," he said. "So it gives you that sense that this moment is different than yesterday, for example, and help people be more aware about the present moment.”

A project inspired by a dream

The concept for the piece stems from the artist’s own experience turning thoughts and feelings from meditation and dreams into three-dimensional form. It’s rooted in a very specific dream he had early in the pandemic about being in a temple.

“I entered, like, a very special space. It was all white, and I laid down looking up, and I saw these shape shifting tiles, and I just couldn't, like, get them out of my mind,” Garcia Bravo said.

He immediately went to his studio and started creating 3-D images from what he saw.

He brought the practice to workshops with the Bloomington community to develop the Aurora Almanac. He asked participants to consider their identity or a present feeling and then translate that into an abstract geometric design.

“Using geometry as almost like a channel of spirituality, like the way that different cultures have represented, for example, the self as a circle,” he said.

girl in eye tile from Aurora Almanac

A tile from the Aurora Almanac

Part of workshop participant Mark Niswander’s identity is rooted in his time living in Texas and Arizona. As geometric shapes translate easily into images from nature, he submitted a cactus inspired design. Garcia Bravo further refined the shape before including it in the panel.

mark niswander's aurora almanac worksheet

Mark Niswander's cactus design concept (Courtesy of Mark Niswander)

niswander tile edit 2

Niswander's design appears in a panel in the south stairwell of the Trades District garage. (Courtesy of Mark Niswander)

“So I think that's what's great about the art, really, is it can become very personal for somebody,” Niswander said. “But not everybody sees it all the same way, everybody might see something a little bit different.”

Dan Baele studied 3-D imaging with Garcia Bravo at Purdue University’s Polytechnic Institute and participated in an Aurora Almanac workshop. As an artist, he felt his best contribution was his creative eye. So he submitted tile designs to compliment others Garcia Bravo was receiving. One of his designs – a set of concentric circles arranged a little off center - alludes to exploration of both our individual selves and our place in the universe.

“Just to kind of give the idea of starting from where we are and being able to journey out further and further, kind of beyond what we know, sort of thing,” he said.

Dan Baele's tile
Dan Baele's design appears in a panel in the south stairwell of the Trades District garage. (Sarah Vaughan, WFIU News)

The idea of “bringing the viewer in as a participant in a big way” is something Baele said he has enjoyed about Garcia Bravo’s past work.

“You're kind of looking directly into the soul of any of these artists who submitted a piece,” he said.

Garcia Bravo only had space for about 200 of the 400 community designs submitted. He said some participants have told him it’s gratifying to see their designs make into the final product.

The digital artist is grateful for the opportunity to complete his first public art project - an effort five years in the making.

“There is a hesitation with technologically based art as opposed to the more traditional sculpture,” he said. “So I think Bloomington is kind of leading the way into having works that incorporate technology.”

These long winter nights are perhaps the best time to see the luminous Aurora Almanac. The panels can be seen in the north and south stairwells of the Trades District garage. Entrances are located off 11th Street and off Morton Street.

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