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The Immersive Experience of Catherine Widgery's "Interface"

Posted on May 3, 2024 at 7:15 AM by Monet Butler

Photo of Catherine Widgery smiling and holding a camera in front of panels with twinkling lightsCatherine Widgery (American b. 1953) is an expert in site-specific public works of art. With Widgery’s fifty plus projects and over forty years of experience, Iowa State University was incredibly fortunate to have her and her team help to create both an interior and an exterior component for the Student Innovation Center. This building debuted in the fall of 2020 with intentions of being a “...bold experiment to change the face of education” as the director Jim Oliver states. Creating a building this revolutionary required an innovative artist, and Widgery certainly fit the bill. With its installation in 2021, Interface is a mixture of nature and the human-built world, partly inspired by Widgery’s childhood where, according to her website, she “passed huge rivers and roaring steel mills each day on the way to school in town.”

Photo of pleated dichroic glass reflecting yellows, greens, blues, and the image of a person repeatedPhoto of a person with a phone taking a selfie in front of pleated dichroic glass reflecting greens and blues


The interior component of Interface begins immediately at the West entrance of the Student Innovation Center. Widgery used pleated dichroic glass which reflects and refracts differently depending on the lighting conditions, creating a scattering of color and multiple reflections. To pass into the Student Innovation Center is to see your many colorful selves that you could be through increased innovation and learning. The fragments of color create a sense of reconfiguring within our surroundings, consistent with the idea of the building. Walking in as the sun is rising is a completely different experience than an overcast day; so too do our minds and ideas change with the passing of time, experience, and changes in our environment.

Photo taken from inside looking up and out windows into a courtyard with suspended copper panels and large glass pleated windows in the backgroundPhoto looking down on a courtyard with suspended copper panels. The Marston water tower is in the background.


The exterior component is suspended within the courtyard found on the second floor. Using a pierced chevron pattern, the copper screens that decorate the sky mimic the pleated look of the glass at the entrance. The panels appear to be floating, suspended on thin wires, which creates a canopy both looking up to the sky and down from the floors above. This mimics the idea of a tree canopy, recalling footage of a forest recorded from above using a drone, as well as standing on the ground. Within these screens are thousands of LED lights connected to an anemometer sensor which measures the speed and direction of the wind. This sensor automatically dims or brightens the LEDs depending on the measurements to create a true mesh of nature and technology. Without the sensors, the wind would remain invisible, and without the wind, the public art would be without light. This symbiotic nature is at the core of Widgery’s work; she strives to create art that anyone can enjoy, regardless of their background.


Photo taken from the Student Innovation Center courtyard looking up at the suspended copper panels with cutout chevron pattern and L E D lights.


Photo taken in the evening from the Student Innovation Center courtyard looking up at the suspended copper panels with cutout chevron pattern and L E D lights.When combined, these two parts of one installation create an immersive experience that encourages each individual passing through the Student Innovation Center to reexamine the crossroads of nature and technology. The building hosts many different technologies, from 3D printing to a glass blowing studio, but the core focus is innovation and collaboration. Widgery’s Interface is not only an interface between technology and nature, but also encourages the interface of collaboration and innovation.

Monet Butler
University Museums 2024 Pohlman Fellow
ISU Class of 2026 | Political Science

Interface, 2021
Catherine Widgery (American b. 1953)
Location: Student Innovation Center
Iowa Art in State Buildings project for the Student Innovation Center. Commissioned by the University Museums and the Student Innovation Center. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.


Categories: Artists, Students

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