Northern Spark lights

Festival art installation by students based on plant fungus

June 5, 2017

A conceptual rendering of

Fifteen students from University of Wisconsin-Stout’s School of Art and Design have collaborated to create an animated art installation for a Twin Cities festival.

The project, “Myccorhizae,” is an abstract sculpture based on a fungus by the same name. The fungus forms a symbiotic or pathogenic relationship on and between plant roots, improving water and nutrient absorption and helping trees communicate.

“Myccorhizae” will be part of the Northern Spark night festival, from sunset Saturday, June 10, to sunrise Sunday, June 11. The festival, in neighborhoods along the Metro Transit’s Green Line, explores the effects of climate change through art projects.

The installation will feature parallel tentacles of vertical light. Visitors will be encouraged to physically engage with the modules. By pushing and pulling the projection surfaces, or engaging simple machines with lenses that manipulate the output of fixed lighting, the visitor will become part of the project, according to Assistant Professor Kimberly Long Loken, design, who taught the class that created the project.

A projection-mapped animation will anchor the sculpture. Projection-mapping shapes a projected image to "fit" on any irregular geometry; in this case, the student-designed structure. The animation and modular structures will share patterns derived from tree species on site, said industrial design student Alex Greene, of Eau Claire.

Kimberly Long Loken, third from left, and her class meet with Tom Hollenback, left, associate professor of sculpture, while working on “Myccorhizae.”

The students’ concept statement on the project said humans “share a symbiotic relationship with every other living plant and creature on Earth. This illuminated, polymorphic installation visually represents the way in which plants transmit chemical messages to one another; it charges the negative space between park trees, acting as an extrusion of the mycorrhizal fungal network in the soil below.”

The frames and fibers of the modules are constructed of up-cycled or recycled materials; accent lighting is solar-powered.

The project was created in UW-Stout’s Transmedia Studio under the direction of Loken, a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Students from various design disciplines contributed: animation, fimmaking, game design, illustration, industrial design and sculpture. “This advanced studio reunites students who collaborated in foundations courses but have now developed technical expertise and conceptual rigor in their respective fields,” Loken said.

The students are:

  • Abby Anderson, of Rosemount, Minn., entertainment design
  • Greg Borman, of St. Paul, entertainment design
  • Megan Daniels, of Oshkosh, game design and development
  • Kelly Goedeke, of Sheboygan, entertainment design
  • Alex Greene, of Eau Claire, industrial design
  • Jack Haessly, of Marshfield, game design and development
  • Samantha Kufahl, Eau Claire, entertainment design
  • Curtis Leszczynski, of Mosinee, entertainment design
  • Austin Lewer, of Marshfield, game design and development
  • Laura Bernadette Meeker, of Mount Horeb, entertainment design
  • William Rutter, of Zumbrota, Minn., entertainment design
  • Peter Sowinski, of Milwaukee, entertainment design
  • Michael Swearingen, of St. Paul, entertainment design
  • Collin Stremke, of Eden Prairie, Minn., studio art
  • Walter Trush, of Williams Bay, entertainment design

A blog about the project can be found here.

Northern Spark is produced by Northern, a Twin Cities arts organization that promotes art in public spaces.

For more information about “Myccorhizae,” contact Loken.



Top: “Myccorhizae” will be part of the Northern Spark night festival June 10-11 in the Twin Cities. Seen here in a conceptual rendering by student Alex Greene, the sculpture was created by 15 UW-Stout students.

Bottom: Assistant Professor Kimberly Long Loken, third from left, and her class meet with Tom Hollenback, left, associate professor of sculpture, while working on the “Myccorhizae” animated art installation.