Midnight light: Sears/Cummins building aims to be overnight sensation

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about the five J. Irwin and Xenia Miller Prize-winning installations in the 2021 Exhibit Columbus architectural exhibition beginning Aug. 21 and continuing through Nov. 28.

Maybe we could call them sidewalk shorts. Or streetside snippets.

Whatever you label them, a series of short films and animation works will be shown for free at 9:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Exhibit Columbus’ Miller Prize installation “Midnight Palace” as the exhibition’s initial preview activity at the Sears/Cummins Inc. building at 323 Brown St. The presentation is being called “Night Owls” playing on an 11-foot-wide video screen facing the street.

Smaller screens will be placed inside the building facing inward.

“It won’t quite be like being at a typical drive-in,” said Ann Lui of the Chicago-based Future Firm that has conceived of the temporary architectural work. “But we do hope that people will come.”

She’s hoping people will attend as much for social mingling and popcorn and other snacks as much as anything.

The effort is similar to Lui’s and Future Firm partner and husband Craig Reschke’s annual summertime presentation called The Night Gallery in Chicago. The Night Gallery features film and video works by architects, designers, and artists, and also screens feature-length films. Situated in a storefront window, The Night Gallery occurs on the sidewalk in a public space, connecting pedestrians and those who pass by.

Lui and Reschke’s current plan is to possibly show some of the same films on the same nights this summer in Columbus and Chicago for something of a distanced, shared experience. Lui and partner Craig Reschke theorized earlier this year that the screens’ possibilities are wide-ranging, ranging from carrying a livestream of a cricket match in India to even interview clips of some of the city’s third-shift workers — manufacturers, bartenders and such.

Future Firm is working with Gaylor Electric staff in Indianapolis and Noblesville to build the installation aimed specifically at Bartholomew County’s second- and third-shift workers.

“We’ve been really lucky to benefit from their capacity and expertise to be able to pull this off at a time period when construction is especially challenging on all fronts,” Lui said.

The exhibit also will include a “wall of light” made from the historic light-bulbs from Columbus’ streetscape: old high-pressure sodium fixtures, contemporary LEDs, and signal lights for the nearby railroad. Built from a lattice-work of electrical conduit, its method of construction highlights the elegant and often invisible craft of trade electricians.

The nonprofit YES Cinema, just around the corner at 328 Jackson St., is considered a partner with Future Firm and its programming.

Diane Doup, the community outreach coordinator for the neighborhood center that operates YES, mentioned that she likes the idea of video screens supporting nearby video screens.

“We’re big fans of Exhibit Columbus,” Doup said. “So we’re honored to have some of its programming almost right outside our door.”

Lui said she and Reschke hope to see local organizations “take ownership” of the video space to program their own gatherings and activities.