In 1977, the “exuberant, friendly inferno” Centerbeam captivated hundreds of thousands of visitors at the documenta 6 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and at its subsequent installation on the National Mall in Washington,D.C.. Artists from the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, led by its director Otto Piene, worked with MIT scientists and engineers to develop this piece. Centerbeam exemplified the collaborative spirit and democratic working process of CAVS, which was founded in 1967. “Pipelines of elements and energies,” Centerbeam was a massive, temporary installation of kinetic, performing, and participatory sculpture. It incorporated technologies pioneered by CAVS fellows as artistic media—laser projections, holograms, steam screens, neon, video, inflatable sculptures helium-lifted into the sky, and other works—projected from the spine of a 144-foot long water prism. The rational, processional form of Centerbeam by day and its indeterminate volumes of laser- illuminated steam, floral, and stellar images by night embodied CAVS’ symbiosis of the arts, sciences, and engineering.
Partial restoration of single section
Center for Advanced Visual Studies
photo: courtesy of CAVS Archives