Sound & Light: Food for the Eyes and Ears

Whether illuminating rock concerts or lighting up Scottish highlands, they are showing us new ways to see and hear

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You get a sense of what that might mean with Inverted Mirror Sphere, the most irresistible piece in his recent show in New York City. A massive spiral globe light assembled from triangular bits of mirror, it shoots light all around the room in lacework patterns. What, you say--a high-concept disco ball? Absolutely. And a reminder, too, that the sun is not the only bright ball that can bring people together while it gives off some glorious vibes. --By Richard Lacayo

Words That Glow in the Dark

For a graffiti artist, Evan Roth has anĀ unusual rapport with the police. Case in point: he was doing his thing on New York City's Lower East Side one night when the cops pulled up in cruisers. Instead of pulling out handcuffs, they stopped to admire his craft.

That's because Roth and his partner James Powderly are pioneers of no-mess graffiti. Drawing on Powderly's background in military robotics and Roth's expertise in architecture, they have invented new ways to leave their mark on the city without defacing it. Their latest development is called the "throwie"--a cluster of LEDs attached to a battery and small magnet. A bunch of throwies can be tossed at any iron surface to create instant graffiti. Alternatively, a tag can be spelled out in advance on a T-shaped "night writer" and slapped onto metal surfaces at improbable heights.

Dubbing themselves the Graffiti Research Lab and backed by Eyebeam, a not-for-profit dedicated to patent-free open-source technology, Roth and Powderly set their invention loose on the Internet, where it quickly developed a passionate following. Others were soon adding improvements the duo had never thought of, such as timers and on-off switches. A website sprang up selling throwie kits--much to Roth's delight. "We want to get people excited about using public spaces," he says. "And get them excited about art." --By Ta-Nehisi Coates and Carolina A. Miranda

REINVENTING GUNPOWDER

As a young artist in theĀ the southern Chinese city of Quanzhou, Cai Guo-Qiang liked the effects he got by lighting gunpowder poured on a canvas, a process that tended to set his canvases on fire. He has been playing with fire--and ephemeral art forms--ever since. His art today draws on a wide range of disciplines (from feng shui to astrophysics) and materials (from vending machines to roller coasters). But gunpowder--the medium that brought him international fame--remains one of his favorites.

Cai, 48, moved in 1986 to Japan, where he began his Projects for Extraterrestrials, artworks designed to be large and loud enough to communicate with outer space. Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters, for example, laid a trail of fire more than six miles beyond the wall's western terminus. Another project, Transient Rainbow, celebrated the Museum of Modern Art's temporary relocation from Manhattan to Queens with a seven-color arc of fireworks over New York City's East River.

Cai says he was originally drawn to explosives as a form of "liberation from [the] social and artistic pressures" of living in China. He worries that true originality is still lacking in his native land: "We have a long and very difficult road ahead of us." --By David Lau

The Height of Folly

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