Trying to describe art — or an artist — in written or verbal form is tricky. It’s an assimilation at best and nothing beats the first-hand, in-person experience. The same can be said for the effect of tunable lighting and how it changes everything you see, including art. We also have psychedelics, which are definitely better experienced than explained. Interestingly, all three converged during an unseasonably warm night in late September. 

The team at OneButton hosted an event in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, N.Y. They gathered architects, designers and lighting designers at the studio of renowned artist Dustin Yellin. While the art alone would be reason enough, we all came to see how light (and, as it turns out, other things) changes the perception of the world around us. 

After the mingling, networking, trips to the bar for craft beer, repeated visits to the food table for mini lobster rolls, self-guided viewing of the art on display, and snooping around the art studio, it was time for the main attraction.  

Yellin invites us to gather around him. He is pacing in front of the group, and his energy and passion are palpable. The words overflow from his mouth, unable to be contained, and it is undeniable that his creativity is boundless. We also hear about his initial (and ongoing) use of psychedelics, and how they opened his mind and began his artistic journey. 

“I literally had a vision for my entire life,” he began, explaining matter-of-factly that his psychedelic of choice is intramuscular ketamine injections. “Then I went and did it.”  

For anyone who has taken the time to learn about and experience Yellin’s work, he did indeed do it. 

The backdrop of this discussion is “The Politics of Eternity,” a septych (seven-piece) that is tall, wide and measured in tons. Each piece is multi-layered glass stacked from back to front, and sandwiched between each layer are incredibly small paper cut-outs from magazines, each meticulously excised by hand. The effect is jaw dropping and one could, and often does, spend hours marveling at the intricacy of the work. This would be true of just a single piece out of context. With seven of them pieced together, we are provided a glimpse into past and present — a cohesive storyline that provides a fascinating narrative and opportunity to reflect on the choices we make as individuals, society as a whole and the inevitable consequences of said decisions. Or you know, a typical Thursday evening in Brooklyn. 

Now that we have psychedelics, artist, context and art, it is time to layer in the light. Matt Emmi from OneButton is a huge fan of tunable lighting and here has taken the use of that technology to another level. He also happens to have the best Ketra (tunable lighting by Lutron) lighting demo I have ever seen. Emmi realized that while the underlying tunable technology makes a great lighting product for architectural applications, it also has a unique ability to shape spaces and the art within said space.  

OneButton formed a relationship with Yellin to combine his art with optimal lighting. The collaboration began with Yellin’s studio, which was outfitted with Ketra lighting to illuminate the workspace as well as the art on display. Individual works can be tuned to allow certain colors and wavelengths to “pop” or become more subdued as the artist intends. The drama it creates in a piece can change immensely based on the given treatment. As an example, “The Politics of Eternity” is illuminated by an array of Ketra fixtures from above as well as a linear Ketra fixture from behind. Each fixture can be tuned individually and mixed and matched to create varied experiences. 

This doesn’t have to end at the studio space; it has now extended into clients’ homes. While not a requirement to own the art, it is strongly encouraged to bring the art to life. The team at OneButton is brought in to accommodate the technical aspects of ensuring that the lighting system is ready to accommodate Ketra. The system is installed along with the artwork. Finally, OneButton is brought in to tune the lighting to Yellin’s specification, yielding a perfect representation of the given piece. The artist has come to refer it as “Yellin Lighting.” While the client has the ability to infinitely adjust the lighting in their space to suit their mood or taste, they always have the ability to return to that “just right” setting that highlights the work. 

Actress Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” One gets the distinct impression that Dustin Yellin is doing it right, and that seeing life through his lens is enlightening.  

Photography by John Frattasi 

Chris Smith is the principal and founder of TheCoTeam. Bringing 20 years of industry experience to the custom installation space, they Coach | Consult | Collaborate with integrators and manufacturers to solve problems and run a more efficient business. 

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