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The Lightsmith

Chris Fraser creates mind-bending art out of the most available material around.

Room with No View

What looks from the outside like a ramshackle house in Cow Hollow is actually the temporary group exhibition “3020 Laguna Street in Exitum,” where light-obsessed artist Chris Fraser (left) stripped an exterior wall down to its laths. 
 

Sunlight streams through the slats to create an unexpected and constantly changing canvas.


Go into the Light

Fraser develops many of his projects onsite. At 3020 Laguna Street, he spent nighttime hours in the house watching car headlights move across the walls. He wanted the installation to “blur the boundary between exterior and interior.” His work, he admits, can be difficult to characterize in words: “Descriptions are just so cumber­some, while the phenomenon is elegant.”

How to Make a Magic Portal

Light from an incandescent bulb enters Fraser’s darkened studio at Real Time and Space through a single, 1/2-inch-wide slit in the wall. Fraser covers the studio’s doors with black plastic sheeting to keep unwanted light out. “Rather than describing the dry mechanics of how light moves through space, “ Fraser says of his methods, ”I prefer to show concrete examples of what it is capable of doing.”

      Visiting Chris Fraser at his studio at Real Time and Space, an artists’ residency program in downtown Oakland, you’re first asked to take off your shoes. Then Fraser turns off the light. As you stand staring at a blank wall, feeling vulnerable in your not-so-glamorous socks, a bit of magic happens: Sharp lines of light cut through the darkness, drawing out a luminescent triangle where seconds ago there was an empty corner. You get the sense that the glowing triangle is actually a doorway, one you suddenly want to step through.
 

     Many of Fraser’s site-specific projects, like this one, use optical tricks to transform mundane spaces into fantastical portals of light and shadow. Though the techniques—often modified takes on camera obscura—are simple, the results are breathtakingly dramatic. Fraser’s work has already lit up a number of sites this year: the aforementioned studio at Real Time and Space; an unassuming dining room in a now-demolished house in Cow Hollow, part of Highlight Gallery’s project “3020 Laguna Street in Exitum”; and a gallery at Sacramento’s Center for Contemporary Art, where Fraser is “nesting” one room within another (through July 1). Next up, a six-week show at Highlight Gallery’s new Kearny Street space, starting September 6.  

      In The Make is an online arts journal featuring studio visits with artists and designers.  This is the first in a monthly series apprearing exclusively in San Francisco.  inthemake.net