Art immersion project by BGSU art education graduate student on display at nation’s largest light art festival
The 23-foot-wide interactive creature created by Bradley Scherzer ‘10 is part of BLINK Cincinnati festival and exhibition
What's 23 feet across, is bathed in day-glo colors and lives on a steady diet of neon "puffs" and laughter? It’s POOF!
The accessible, interactive art creation by Bowling Green State University art education master’s candidate Bradley Scherzer ‘10 is part of the BLINK Cincinnati festival and exhibition – the nation’s largest light, art and projection mapping experience – that runs from Oct. 13-16.
Scherzer’s giant creature artwork, which made its debut before 22,000 people during Toledo’s 2019 Momentum, can now be viewed by the estimated 2.6 million art aficionados heading to BLINK, which covers more than 30 city blocks in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.
Scherzer, who teaches art and photography at Fremont Ross High School, graduated from BGSU in 2010 with a degree in art education and 2D studies and is now pursuing his master’s degree in arts education at the University.
Scherzer says he was drawn to BGSU for the quality of the arts education he would receive at the University and the appealing aesthetics of the campus.
"I was a commuter from Waterville, so I would come and I would stay on campus all day and it was just really comfortable to be there," Scherzer said. "On top of that, I was going for art education and the program was well-talked-about and really well-known. The art department had everything I could want."
Scherzer said his positive undergraduate experiences and the flexibility of the University's arts master's degree made BGSU the perfect next step for him as an artist and educator.
"BGSU was an easy fit and on top of that, the art education master's degree is flexible," Scherzer said. "It fits perfectly with my job and personal life, and I'm still able to pursue an advanced degree."
Scherzer now balances his own education with planning the education of his students as well as his creative endeavors, such as refining POOF!
His website describes POOF! as “a giant creature sporting a symbiotic relationship with humans. It relies on its bright and colorful good looks to get people to feed it. Creating joy and fun for all, the POOF! gets fed all the tasty neon puffs it could ever want.”
The project was installed on-site by Scherzer and an 11-person team. Powered by a strong fan/blower, the system hurls soft, lightweight materials – or puffs – through transparent tubes in a blur of colors. At night, ultraviolet (UV) lights surrounding the structure are activated, making the artwork glow with bright neon colors. Participants also move in and out of the structure, feeding in new puffs and then watching as they fly out. Tubes weave and loop in and around the geodesic dome structure, making it a surprise where the puffs will come out next.
Scherzer observes a couple of different sets of reactions to POOF!, depending on the age of the participant.
"With kids, we're looking to elicit joy. We're looking to have them see this thing that's larger than life, be somewhat overwhelmed with it and a little bit excited, and have to slow down and learn how to feed it and how to treat the creature," Scherzer said. "It's kind of like being a good citizen to animals but also learning a process really quickly. Oftentimes kids build their own kind of community within the dome where they assign each other jobs and they collect things and share and negotiate the situation."
With adults, Scherzer said it can take a little coaxing to get them in touch with their own sense of joy, while noting that POOF! isn't billed as a "kids only" exhibition.
"Part of the POOF! Pal's job is to go out and see the adults that are standing around looking interested, engage with them and try to get them to go over and feed it and release their imagination. We want adults to allow themselves to be part of it, to experience joy and remind themselves that they also can be wowed by it," Scherzer said. "Usually they'll come and do it and they always say, 'OK this was a positive experience. I'm glad you did this.'"
Life lessons in the classroom
Scherzer is always learning and refining his processes, and as a teacher, he’s sharing lessons he's learned as an artist to give students a real-world view.
"I share what I do as an artist to communicate there is a professional part to this. There is an arts industry and market and I'm sharing with them even the economics of how I'm doing it. They'll learn how much I'm spending on this installation and how much I'm making on this installation, and all the organization that goes into it," Scherzer said.
"If they're interested in the physics of it, I can talk about the mass involved in designing the dome and calculating the air pressure across the volume of a tube. This was maybe the closest I've ever gotten to trigonometry on my own. So they're getting a little bit of that and I'll share with them all this, really, just to talk to them about careers in the arts."
Scherzer's commitment to arts education lives on at BGSU, said Dr. Barbara Bergstrom, chair of art education in the School of Art, noting he left the School of Art a hard copy of his senior year artist-teacher portfolio in 2010.
"It remains a critical example to our current seniors as each of them undergoes the unique professional development that supports a life among the visual arts and education. Bradley defines what it means to be an artist-teacher and models a rich commitment to both aspects of this meaningful profession," Bergstrom said.
As far as preparing for BLINK, Scherzer said getting POOF! up and running takes a special squad of helpers – a team he calls “POOF! Pals.” These 11 people are volunteers and friends of Scherzer who dress in bright costumes and keep the mystery of POOF! alive for visitors.
At least two of the "POOF! Pals" have BGSU ties - Paige Salamin Strancar '07 and former Residence Life Student Advisor Michelle Atkinson. It generally takes seven to eight hours to assemble POOF!, the idea for which came from research into geodesic domes and pneumatic tube systems Scherzer was doing. That research coincided with a call for proposals for The Arts Commission's 2019 Momentum Festival in Toledo.
"POOF! is what it is mostly because of those interests that I have and also because I think it's really cool when we take scientific practices and math and then apply them in a way that's full of a kind of pageantry. It's like a little bit of theater in how can you involve your imagination and give yourself over to the idea that this science that's happening here is actually something beyond just air moving through tubes and PVC," he said. "It's kind of geared toward that if we accept this as a creature and if we dig a little deeper, we can understand how that creature works."
The installation is accessible to people living with disabilities and all interactions take place at a level accessible to children and wheelchairs. The artwork's tongue itself is an ADA-accessible ramp into the immersive art experience.
“It is truly an honor to be featured in not only the nation’s biggest event of this kind, but alongside big-name artists that I respect and admire,” Scherzer said of his inclusion in BLINK's artist lineup.
In addition to teaching art while studying for his master’s degree at BGSU, Scherzer also is involved in regionally organizing and engaging communities and youth in public-art-making. He also creates large- and small-scale murals, both artistically and commercially, and his murals can be seen in prominent locations throughout Ohio - in Fremont, Bowling Green, Findlay, Maumee and Toledo.
Updated: 10/17/2022 12:17PM