Ever since its decommissioning 37years ago, the Moran Plant has hulked lifelessly over the Burlingtonwaterfront. And while the abandoned coal-fired power plant won't berevivified anytime soon, it's temporarily become a littleless of a gloomy presence.
Burlington artist Sarah O Donnell hasrigged up a light show at the top level of Moran's interior that blinkscolorfully from dusk to dawn, readily visible to anyone looking atthe southern exterior of the plant. "A Visible Night," asO Donnell titles her work, will remain in operation through September21.
She's hung 18 silk sheets along a rowof now-glassless windows just below Moran's roof line and above the"City of Burlington" inscription on the brick facade. Aswiveling beam of light is powered via a 500-foot series of extensioncords plugged into the plant's only functioning socket far belowO Donnell's installation. Like a zoetrope, the light plays quicklyalong the row of silks arranged as a color spectrum — from coolblues and greens on the eastern end, to warm reds and purples alongthe part closer to the lake.
Moran appears to be sending outsignals. Maybe it's trying to tell onlookers, "I'm not dead! See — I've got a pulse!"
O Donnell's aim, she explains, was "toshow Moran a little love."
It sure can use it. The interior fillsher with "foreboding," O Donnell confessed during a tour ofthe ghostly interior on Tuesday evening. That's partly because of theracoons — maybe rabid, maybe not — that lurk in the unlit spacewhere she installed her work. With its many unfenced pits that dropto the lake or into some seemingly bottomless darkness, the place isalso just flat-out dangerous. Graffiti sprayed on crumblingcement-block walls adds a sinister note. Plus, the plant is a toxic-waste site.
O Donnell, who moved to Vermont a yearago after earning an MFA from Ohio State University, says she's donea lot of artwork involving abandoned buildings, including a suite ofphotos of a ghost town in Montana. But there's a special discomfortto being in Moran, O Donnell adds.
It's not as though she hates theplace, however. In fact, O Donnell says she hopes her show helpsaccelerate the move to redevelop Moran in some still-undecidedmanner.
Standing on a shaky walkway at the toplevel of the plant as darkness gathered, O Donnell said herstatus as a newcomer to Burlington allowed her to focus on theplant's architecture rather than on the politics that have producedthe decades-long stalemate on redevelopment. And although cityofficials have been "amazing" in their assistance with theproject, O Donnell noted she "didn't want too much information"from them about Moran. "I wanted to work from my gut."
The result puts a smile on a buildingthat's been glowering at Burlington for a long time. And O Donnell'ssimple but ingenious project will likely have the same effect on allwho see it.
"A Visible Night" was madepossible with funding from Burlington City Arts. A show related toO Donnell's piece can be seen on the second floor of the BCA Centeron Church Street.