Sarasota Art Museum offers a tactile sensory experience with new celestial exhibition

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Sarasota Art Museum offers a tactile sensory experience with new celestial exhibition
Anne Patterson. “Beyond Here,” 2024. Installation view at Sarasota Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida, 2024. Photo: Ryan Gamma.

SARASOTA, FLA.- Dramatically lit sculptures, galactic paintings and thousands of vibrant ribbons set against an orchestral composition escort visitors beyond Earth’s atmosphere in “The Truth of the Night Sky: Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin.” Experience the exhibition through Sept. 29 at Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design. Organized in collaboration with the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Manasota Key, Florida, the immersive installation is inspired by the iconic 1968 photograph of Earth taken from Apollo 8 and carries messages of wonderment, possibility and unity.

Patterson, a multimedia artist, is a synesthete who visualizes color and shape when she hears music. Harlin, a composer, combines classical, jazz and electronic genres to express his reverence for the natural world. “The Truth of the Night Sky” offers captivating encounters with both artists’ works.

Transcending the traditional boundaries of art, this immersive exhibition invites visitors to embark on a multisensory journey through the interplay of music, light and visual arts. Patterson’s “Weeping Tree” (2023-24) anchors the gallery. The majestic work suspended from the ceiling is comprised of driftwood that weeps gold leaves. Other sculptures include Patterson’s “The Truth of the Night Sky” (2018-19) and five works from her series “Star Spinning Through Spring” (2018-24). Approximately 30 paintings of iridescent gold from “We Are All Stardust” (2019-24) form a horizon beneath the tree. “Celestial Orbs” (2023-24), sculptures made of steel piano wire, resin and gold leaf, gently revolve in the adjacent gallery. Together, these works symbolize constellations and evoke the universe.

“Making these sculptures was pure joy for me. I manipulated and shaped the wire, actually dancing to the music and with my materials as my partner in rhythm to Patrick’s music,” Patterson said.

As visitors explore her works, excerpts and elaborations from Harlin’s “Earthrise” (2022) engage the auditory senses. The composer’s “Starburst” accompanies Patterson’s “Star Spinning Through Spring” and mimics shooting stars with contributions from individual musicians that come together to create an arc of high sounds. “When I saw Anne’s sculptures, I knew I had to expand on an idea I came up with for ‘Earthrise.’ I echoed the visual structural principle of Patterson’s works, which are divided in the middle and jut outward at the top and bottom. I had my music do the same– flipping and playing backward when it meets in the middle. You can easily hear this moment when the music goes silent for a second before performing in reverse,” Harlin said.

“The Lighthouse” signals the first glimpse of the Earth floating over the moon’s horizon and reflects a new orchestral technique Harlin specifically developed for “Earthrise.” He exchanges a traditional synchronized beat for shifting harmonies in which each player changes pitch as the conductor passes their position on stage. “Drifting through Time and Space” is the only direct excerpt from “Earthrise” and conjures awe-inspiring moments in space when our sense of time is distorted, no longer connected with the sun.

As visitors enter the adjacent gallery, Harlin’s full “Earthrise” composition and Patterson’s signature ribbon room merge in “Beyond Here” (2024). A kaleidoscope of thousands of satin ribbons in 23 colors cascade from the ceiling to the floor. The color palette was a response to Harlin’s composition and her unique ability to see color when she hears music. The colors correspond to imagery from the James Webb Space Telescope. The ribbons are animated by projected abstract video images synched with the music, designed by Adam Larsen.

“Patrick Harlin and I challenge perceptions and transform the space with celestial sculptural forms; vivid hues; dazzling light; and a mesmerizing, inviting musical score to create an air of transcendence and uplift,” said Patterson. “The viewer will witness the wonderment of the universe and nature that surrounds us and be reminded that only when it is dark can we see the stars.”

Rangsook Yoon, Ph.D., senior curator at Sarasota Art Museum, says each step of the exhibition invites visitors to imaginatively travel through space and time.

“While the first part of the exhibition evokes the icy weightlessness of outer space and a sense of isolation and solitude in the vastness of the universe, ‘Beyond Here’ creates an opposite sensation — uplift and exhilaration,” said Yoon. “Disorienting with their optical illusions and splendid display of colors, the ribbons create the illusion of dissolving the boundaries of the gallery walls, beckoning us to plunge into the colorful abyss.”

Patrick recorded “Earthrise” in 2024 in Poland with the Beethoven Academy Orchestra specifically for “The Truth of the Night Sky.” “This is truly a global project, meant to connect each other through art and music,” said Harlin. The music has its origins in 2021 when Harlin applied to be among eight artists who would join SpaceX’s inaugural tourist flight around the moon. He imagined the trip would prompt him to compose a new soundtrack for space travel. When he wasn’t chosen, he turned his attention instead to the Apollo 8 photograph. With the revered image from space in mind, he composed “Earthrise,” which he coincidentally completed on Earth Day. “I hope visitors to Sarasota Art Museum might vicariously experience the feeling that astronauts who have taken the trip beyond the moon have,” he said.

Patterson and Harlin met and began collaborating in 2014 while in residence at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. At that time, they discovered a shared affinity: they both draw inspiration from nature.

“‘The Truth of the Night Sky’ is an example of what is possible when a community nurtures creativity,” said Virginia Shearer, executive director of Sarasota Art Museum. “The opportunity to bring artists who met at the nearby Hermitage Artist Retreat back to Florida to share their work in Sarasota aligns with the Museum’s aim to serve as a venue where artists can explore their creativity and visitors can have meaningful encounters with contemporary art.”

Patterson and Harlin’s meeting at the Hermitage 10 years ago gave impetus to “The Truth of the Night Sky” at Sarasota Art Museum.

“Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin are both extraordinary talents whose passion for collaboration and big ideas embody the mission and spirit of the Hermitage,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It is thrilling to be able to see a creative partnership take shape and then to witness these two brilliant minds melding as their concepts evolve from the earliest stages to a fully realized exhibition that we can share with audiences in Sarasota.”

"The Truth of the Night Sky: Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin" is organized by Sarasota Art Museum in collaboration with the Hermitage Artist Retreat and curated by Rangsook Yoon, Ph.D., senior curator, Sarasota Art Museum.

Anne Patterson holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Yale University and a Master of Fine Art in theater design from the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Her work has been widely exhibited and collected in dozens of galleries, museums and cultural institutions, including exhibitions at The Ringling Museum (Sarasota, Florida) and Trapholt Museum (Denmark). Her installations have hung in Grace Cathedral (San Francisco), St. John the Divine (New York) and in Milan in collaboration with Zenga. She recently installed a permanent piece for Capital One Bank in Washington, D.C. Her theatrical partnerships have included major venues across the United States: Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Arena Stage, The Wilma Theater, The Kennedy Center and Alliance Theater and prestigious symphonies throughout the country, including the San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle symphonies. She is the recipient of multiple CODA awards and earned a Creative Capital Award in 2008. She is a longtime fellow of the Hermitage Artist Retreat and recently served as a juror for the Hermitage Greenfield Prize in Visual Art.

Patrick Harlin’s music is permeated by classical, jazz and electronic traditions, all underpinned with a love and respect for the great outdoors. His works have been performed on subscription series concerts by the St. Louis Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, the Rochester and Calgary Philharmonic Orchestras, Reno Philharmonic and countless others. Recent album releases include the Billboard chart-topping “Wilderness Anthology” on the Kinetic Ensembles debut album and “Rapture” on the Grammy-nominated album “American Rapture” by the Rochester Philharmonic. Harlin was the inaugural composer in residence with Michigan’s Lansing Symphony Orchestra (2019-2023) and the inaugural winner of the Hermitage Prize in Composition at the Aspen Music Festival. Harlin’s interdisciplinary research in soundscape ecology—a field that aims to better understand ecosystems through sound—has taken him to imperiled regions around the world, including the Amazon rainforest. Harlin holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan where he currently teaches.

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