A new interactive art installation in a second-floor classroom at Burlington High School’s new downtown campus aims to give teens the space to relax, de-stress and just breathe.
It opened this week, after a pandemic year of remote learning and social isolation that hurt students’ mental health.
“Radiant Thought,” created by Burlington artist Clay Mohrman, is an eight-foot wide sphere made of dangling strips of white plexiglass and round LED lightbulbs. When turned on, the sculpture’s 25 lights pulse gently, and a calming voice guides viewers through a seven-minute meditation.
As sounds of crashing waves, footsteps, people’s voices and a heartbeat play in the background, Mohrman’s collaborator, Brittany Mae, provides recorded narration.
“As you settle into this place around you, find a comfortable space to observe,” Mae says. “Let your gaze center on whatever is in front of you … Notice the air flowing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The inhale, the exhale, the in-between. Can you feel it?”
Mohrman first created the artwork as a commission for Burlington City Arts. The piece, which Mohrman says attempts to explore what a brain looks like while processing thoughts, was displayed in a darkened second-floor gallery at the BCA Center on Church Street last fall. That’s where it caught the eye of Roxanne Scully, founder of the Onda Foundation.
Scully — who owns WND&WVS, Burlington Surf Club, the Spot restaurants and the Hula coworking space with her husband, Russ — said she was moved by the piece.
Scully was speaking with BCA executive director Doreen Kraft about what would happen to the piece after it left the gallery when she hatched the idea of bringing it to Burlington High School, where Scully's son is a student. A grant from the Onda Foundation helped relocate it.
After “20 straight hours of detangling the sculpture,” and several days installing it in the high school, Mohrman said he was excited that his piece could have “a second life.”
“To create a space that is pro-mental health, pro-relaxation, taking a moment away from the grind and kind of reconnecting with yourself is really at the core of what this piece aims to do for the public,” Mohrman said. “I’m really excited to see how the faculty and the students approach the piece.”
Principal Lauren McBride said the sculpture, and the meditation room in which it hangs, was created to give the school community “a place of refuge and recharge.” It’s been a stressful year due to the pandemic, as well as the uncertainty caused by the closure of the Institute Road campus, which is contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The room that houses the sculpture is also a designated space for members of the school community to pray. Junior Safia Ibrahim said that in elementary and middle school, she would often wait until she got home from school to pray. She’s thankful that she now has a calm, pretty space where she and friends can do their midday prayers.
Sophomore Ian Rock-Jones experienced the installation for the first time on Wednesday.
“It’s really cool and very immersive,” he said. “It will be really nice to have a space to come and relax … away from reality.”