Deanna Mitchell is a self-described nomad artist. “I don’t actually live anywhere,” Mitchell told Broken Sidewalk. “I live out of a backpack.” She took the big leap to tiny living last year and set out on a tour of Europe to study how cities there function—particularly after the sun goes down.
“I’ve been moving around a lot, and going to all these different cities around the world to see what they are doing to make people happy,” Mitchell said. “For me, it’s things that are happening at night. It’s the way that art is integrated into the nighttime. It’s inspiring for me to walk around these cities at night and see what they’re doing in terms of light design.”
Following her trip, Mitchell brought some of those ideas back to Louisville. And this weekend, her group, Oh Wow Creative Collective, is launching an installation called The Forest Rises on the lawn beneath the spiral ramp to the Big Four Bridge, itself an over-scaled piece of light art.
Mitchell’s installation uses fiber optics to illuminate 192 hand-made mushrooms that appear to grow along the banks of the Ohio River.
To create the installation, Mitchell hand molded each mushroom using ten different forms. For the illuminated effect, Mitchell joined with electrical engineer Tyler Martin and process engineer Jason Latta to create three custom-made LED light boards powered by Arduino and a custom-built acrylic piece that holds the fiber optic cable in place. Each box holds 64 bundles of fiber that lead sinuously to 64 mushrooms with soft trails of light. Lvl1 provided Mitchell with a makership that allowed her to build the self-funded project in its hackerspace.
Mitchell hand bundled nearly 20 kilometers of fiber in her apartment. “That was a major thing, getting all that fiber spun,” she said. “I had five giant spools of this fiber optic material, and I would walk it across the room five strands at a time, and just walk back and forth and bundle them into 30 strand bundles.” She did repeated that process for each of the 192 mushrooms.
“It’s like putting this layer of magic on top of your normal,” Mitchell said. “It makes you pause and feel something. The whole idea is to get people out and inspire community.”
The Forest Rises officially kicks off Sunday, March 20 and runs every night through Sunday, March 27. A special sneak peek takes place Saturday, March 19 between 9:00 and 10:00p.m. where the team will show off their display and Mitchell will discuss her inspiration and the details behind the project.
“It’s out there now on the Big Four Bridge lawn,” Mitchell said of the light display. “You can see it all the way up the ramp—you can’t miss it.”
After the show concludes, Mitchell hopes to take the light show to other locations around Louisville. “My hope is that they can move to a new spot and activate a new spot,” she said. “I’ve got my eye one a new location. I would like to tactically move them around to different spots.”
Mitchell hopes to bring more of her experiences traveling abroad back to Louisville—and to find new ways of activating space at night locally. “I don’t see a lot of this stuff in Louisville,” Mitchell said. “But people are hungry for it—everyone was going nuts over the Speed opening. I want to be a part of that.”
While her current plans are to focus on this installation, Mitchell hopes Louisville could one day host a full-fledged light festival, similar to one called Signal in Prague. “That is my dream,” she said. “It’s just incredibly beautiful.”
“A lot of cities think if you light up an area, then you’re going to get trouble in that area,” Mitchell added. “I don’t think that’s true. If you properly light up an area—artistically light up an area—then you get community building. Even in the winter, people still come out.”