Ixilum enchants

Published June 11, 2004 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    I’ve gone to art exhibits for decades, but this was a new one. People were enjoying the art by lying on their backs in the center of a round green room, speaking a few words, giggling and rolling out of the way for someone else to have a turn.

    Welcome to “Ixilum,” one of five luminaria that tour the world, currently residing at the Midland Center for the Arts through Monday as part of the Matrix:Midland Festival.

    From the outside it looks like a carnival moonwalk, and visitors are prompted to remove their shoes and keep any sharp objects to themselves. Most spend about 20 minutes inside the vinyl sculpture, I was told.

    Fair warning: I took my children, Joshua, 11, and Heather, 10, after school Thursday. We stayed for an hour. Take the kids, take the adults — it’s that cool.

    From the map, it didn’t seem like it could fill even 20 minutes. There was the blue maze room — not much of a maze, really — branching off into the red column and green column rooms, the centre chamber, belle chamber and tree. Low-key space music played softly.

    At first, we just admired the way the daylight, even through the clouds, shone through the brightly colored walls and ceiling. But many side pockets that look like perfect picnicking sites were too inviting to ignore, so we sat, even though no one else did — at first. It turns out that part of the fun is choosing a vantage point from which you can see down several tunnels and watch other people interact with the luminarium.

    The highlight for us was the tree, red with a yellow canopy. As soon as we saw the “branches,” we wished we could go “upstairs.”

    Upstairs came to us, it turns out. The blowers that keep the sculpture inflated vary, so the top of the tree bends down in the wind, eventually dropping the branches to chest height.

    “Breathe, my tree, breathe,” Heather declared dramatically as the branches dropped around her. Parents beckoned to small children and lifted them through the holes to peek into the chamber’s upper reaches before the blowers raised them again. Toward the end of our visit, a grown man stood enjoying the rise and fall of branches, and grinned sheepishly when I walked into the chamber and caught him.

    The centre chamber’s elegant green dome was another favorite. In the very center — look for the circle on the floor — there is an echo effect only the speaker can hear. Off this chamber there are eight pockets and four paths, and it is easy to see how idle wandering and pauses can happily occupy a lot of time.

    “Don’t you wish you could live in here?” Joshua asked.

    Realizing we were unlikely to see such a thing again, the children asked to go through the rooms once more. Wait, it became twice more, winding around the photography students, visitors and outright loungers who dotted the place.

    At $6 for adults and $3 for students, Ixilum is well worth the price. If Matrix organizers have a list of potential repeat events, we hope they add this one.

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