Sky projection performance by Shi Guorui highlights Skywalk Arts Festival

Shi Guorui in his studio (photo by Felix Chan)

Our modern word “camera” comes from camera obscura, literally meaning a darkened chamber (sometimes the size of an actual room), which was the invention’s low-tech precursor. As far back as the writings of the fourth-century BCE Chinese philosopher Mozi, we have evidence of curious people experimenting with projecting upside-down, left/right-reversed images by shining a light through a pinhole. There’s even a hypothesis that Neolithic cave paintings were inspired by images cast on rock walls through tiny holes in animal-hide windbreaks. The first true pinhole camera is attributed to the early-11th-century Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham, as described in his Book of Optics.

In modern times, some artists still enjoy working with the simple tool of the camera obscura, which allows for considerable experimentation with scale. Among those is the Chinese-born photographer Shi Guorui, now based in Catskill. A new exhibition of Shi’s work, “Ab/Sense-Pre/Sense,” curated by Kate Menconeri and featuring landscape photographs up to 15 feet in width, opens on Sunday, September 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. The show is the latest in the Cole Site’s annual series “Open House: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole.” Admission to the site will be free of charge during this special event.

The opening reception is presented in conjunction with the Hudson River Skywalk Arts Festival – the third annual such festival, despite the fact that the Hudson River Skywalk, the new scenic walkway connecting the homes and studios of Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church over the Hudson River via the Rip van Winkle Bridge, is still in its “inaugural year.” Prior to the art show opening, at 1 p.m., Shi Guorui will present a performance of light titled 1.7 Mile Lights to connect Church’s Olana with the Cole Site. He will reflect beams of light across the sky above the Hudson River to illuminate the bonds connecting the two 19th-century artists, their homes and our contemporary moment. The light performance will be visible from Olana’s Ridge Road, the Rip Van Winkle Bridge walkway and the Skywalk path from the Thomas Cole Site to the Bridge.

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Other Skywalk Arts Festival activities are planned for Sunday, including an outdoor yoga class, walking tours and talks at Olana and live music and an art sale in the park next to the Rip van Winkle Bridge toll plaza in Catskill. To enter the Bridge Authority Parking Lot, motorists must travel on Route 23 east and pass through Toll Lane 1 (the full-service lane).

To learn more about the artist and the new exhibition, visit http://thomascole.org/absensepresense. To preregister for a walking tour at Olana, visit www.olana.org.

1.7 Mile Lights, Sunday, Sept. 22, 1 p.m., Free, Rip van Winkle Bridge Skywalk / “Shi Guorui: Ab/Sense-Pre/Sense” opening, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2-4 p.m., Free, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring St., Catskill, (518) 943-7465, http://thomascole.org

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