Mesmerizing rainbows have appeared, seemingly out of thin air, just a stone’s throw away from the White House. But what looks like colorful rays of light are actually just a trick of the eye. Artist Gabriel Dawe crafted the ethereal optical illusion, titled Plexus A1, from 60 miles of embroidery thread that span 19-foot-tall ceilings. The thread installation was created as part of the recently renovated Smithsonian Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” Exhibit in Washington, D.C.
The prismatic artwork pops against the Renwick’s 19th-century white gallery room and shimmers in the daylight like a mirage. Dawe’s artwork was created as part of an ongoing series called “Plexus”—a term for the intricate and weblike network of vessels or nerves in the body—and is his largest thread installation yet. Plexus A1 represents the full spectrum of natural light, from magenta to red, using 60 miles of thread in 15 different colors. The threads span the floor to ceiling in repeating overlays.
“[Plexus] was the perfect name because it not only refers to the connection of the body with its environment, but it also relates directly to the intricate network of threads forming the installation itself, and to the tension inherent in the thread, vibrating with an almost tangible luminosity,” writes Dawe. “Plexus evokes the intrinsic order within the apparent chaos that exists in nature. A hidden codification breaks through, piercing our daily perceptions, seeming to create both matter and the immaterial with colorful rays of light.”
The site-specific installation was meticulously planned out in advance with the help of computer software. Though the gallery space’s long and narrow footprint proved a challenge, Dawe managed to give Plexus A1 a great sense of depth. From afar, the artwork appears to comprise two rainbow “planes” that begin from opposite sides of the room, twist in shape, and then intersect one another before reaching the ceiling. The rainbow layers are made up of multiple layers of thread attached to tiny metal hooks. The installation took 10 days to complete.
Dawe’s Plexus series draws inspiration from the memories of the skies of Mexico City and East Texas, as well as his desire to subvert social constructs of gender. His exploration of embroidery was partly born from a frustration stemming from childhood, when his grandmother forbade him from learning crafts traditionally associated with women.
On his work, Dawe writes: “The fineness of the thread makes these installations ethereal, almost immaterial, yet not, almost disappearing to the eye and leaving a color haze behind. This color mist alludes to a symbolic quest to materialize light, to give it density, so that I can offer the viewer an approximation of things otherwise inaccessible to us- a glimmer of hope that brings us closer to the transcendent, to show that there can be beauty in this messed up world we live in. Light is composed of the different colors of the spectrum. Here, it also comes to symbolize unity and wholeness.”
Lead image via Conduit Gallery © Ron Blunt, watermarked images © Lucy Wang