"Our purpose is to get people high," offers Dorothy Tanner, pausing for effect before adding, "... without drugs."
High. Relaxed. Mellow. Whatever you want to call it, visiting Lumonics will induce in viewers an altered state of some sort. Tanner and her late husband, Mel, opened the "light and sound" theater in Miami in 1969, where they began displaying their acrylic sculptures and presenting live shows of dancing lasers set to soothing, New-Age music. They moved their gallery/ theater to Los Angeles and Bangor, Maine, before relocating to Fort Lauderdale in 1987.
The couple, who met in New York while going to art school in the mid-'50s, began working with the hard plastic acrylic while creating artworks for corporations. Mel coined the term lumonics -- combining luminous and harmonic -- in order to describe the essence of the couple's sculpture, which is wired with electricity and glows with illumination from within. His works are geometric patterns of backlit, colored-plastic shapes enclosed in black cases; her pieces are more abstract, some freestanding acrylic sculptures in monotone, others similar to Mel's but incorporating freer-flowing shapes.
Several rooms full of such art comprise Lumonics' current installation, "Ambient Lumonica Electronica," which is on view through November 30. Combined with the soothing trickle of water from several clear, acrylic fountains (themselves freestanding works of art), low light, and the scent of incense, the glowing art pieces set a subdued and reflective mood. But that's just the static stuff. Sound and moving visuals up the ante in the theater at Lumonics, where the sculptures become part of weekly shows, blinking and flashing to the subtle beats and melodies of spacey music while laser beams and "light paintings" (created with an overhead projector and paint) are layered over an ever-changing video montage of swirling abstract images.
"This is the ultimate field trip," says Barry Raphael, a former schoolteacher who handles Lumonics' publicity. He means for audiences in general, but indeed school groups come in to watch shows and to participate in percussion seminars. In addition to those functions and the gallery displays, Lumonics produces commissioned pieces.
The experiential live shows, however, are Lumonics' trademark. Tanner works with long-time musical and artistic collaborator Marc Billard to program the music, create the videos, and produce the live visual effects. While they've been using the same system for years, every show is different, a unique display set to music as varied as classical, jazz, and ambient electronica.
Of late the pair has been creating its own soundtracks by sampling, adding more danceable beats to ethereal melodies with an eye toward expanding their multimedia approach still further. In October a reconfiguration of Lumonics will open the theater to an adjoining gallery, creating a dance space.
"So we'll have the performance, we'll have the dancing, and maybe we'll go into an after-hours thing," muses Tanner.
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