Horizon Line

Guest Artist Austin Stewart



Horizon Line was requested as part of a series of site specific installation artworks at Black Contemporary which is located a couple of miles south of Ames in an abandoned seed drying facility at Black's Seed Farm. Thematically the work was asked to address the transformation of rural communities and/or the rural landscape.

The facility the installation was housed in was constructed in the 1970's and thus had quite a short active lifespan.  That short lifespan led me to contemplate the full history of the site from the inception of the planet to its eventual demise.  Walking out of the space and seeing the unperturbed horizon line set in motion the idea to make the structure “transparent” and expose its ephemeral nature and in so doing create a contemplative experience of impermanence and the passage of time.  The title for the work arose because of this experience and the connections that can be drawn between the horizon line and the present moment.  The first is the immaterial instant of separation between earth and sky, and the second is the immaterial instant of separation between future and past.

The space that housed the installation was 62' long by 8 ft wide, made of cinder blocks, and windowless. In it was a solitary canoe that I fabricated from reclaimed barn lumber that was milled in the 1850's. Along the walls was a strip of 2400 color controllable LED lights diffused through newsprint.

The LEDs act as a one pixel tall video screen.  On top of the building a camera with a fisheye lens captured video of the horizon in real time and transmitted the video signal to the LEDs. The LEDs were hung in such a fashion that when the viewer sat in the canoe it was as though they were looking through the walls of the building at the physical horizon.  The illusion was real enough that many people I spoke with at the event thought I had drilled holes in the walls to let light in.


Work in the field of new media frequently focuses on a critique of the technological or a celebration of the aesthetics of “new” media.  This project was an attempt to engage high technology in the production of an installation that has little to do with technology. Perhaps the underlying causes of the rapid transformation of rural landscapes and communities can be directly tied to technological innovation, but it was not my motive to shed light on that connection.

Based on feedback I received the work was successful in creating an experience that did not become entangled with the technology that made it possible.  With one big caveat.

I scheduled a couple of sunrise and sunset events in the space during the exhibition.  If any of you have used digital cameras in dark setting you know that as the light gets lower the video gets grainier as the camera compensates for low light.  When you only have a one pixel tall video screen that noise slowly becomes a flicker which then intensifies as there is less light with LEDs flashing on and off all around you until finally just a handful are left and then they slowly wink out one by one.

It was incredibly beautiful to experience.  But it definitely made the audience aware they were having a technologically mediated experience.