Projecting their vision

Buffalo State’s Brian Milbrand is the mind behind Burchfield Penney’s new ‘Front Yard’ gallery


Photos courtesy of Burchfield Penney Art Center

The Burchfield Penney Art Center will now debut its new exhibit on Oct. 18, one month after the originally planned date.

The ambitious vision of one SUNY Buffalo State staffer will illuminate the campus’ “front yard” beginning this fall.

The Burchfield Penney Art Center will soon feature a one-of-a-kind, constantly changing outdoor video and audio gallery called “The Front Yard,” which will permanently occupy the plot directly in front of the museum, transforming its facade into a year-round video projection screen during the evening and a digital sound garden during daytime hours.

Communication department technical manager and video artist Brian Milbrand developed the project in principle over the past several years in collaboration with Brad Wales, a University at Buffalo professor and architect, and students from both SUNY campuses.

The concept is designed by Isabel Brito, one of Wales’ architecture students at UB, and consists of three 24-foot steel and glass-clad towers, each encased with a 7,500 lumen video projector.

Eight military-grade surround sound speakers will accompany the projectors and an advanced weather sensor stationed on the museum’s rooftop to create what Burchfield Penney is calling “the world’s first permanent environmentally-responsive, outdoor audio and video environment.”

The gallery is scheduled to debut with visual works by Milbrand and other local video artists when the sun sets on Sept. 12.

“For me personally, it’s the largest project I’ve ever worked on, so it’s very exciting for me on that level,” Milbrand said. “For me it really feels like a big step up, just personally.

“I want it to be very playful. I want it to always be evolving,” Milbrand explained. “Most video art is the same thing over and over and over and I wanted something that every time people walked up to it would be something different.”

Operating 24-7, 365 days a year, the ever-evolving gallery will respond to changes in environmental conditions recorded by the sensor. Weather variables like rain and snow, varying temperatures and the time of day will determine the type of artwork that is displayed.

“At sunset, you’ll see a certain image, and as it gets darker, the image will change,” Burchfield Penney associate director Don Metz said. “If the temperature goes from 65 to 45, that will change the image as well. If it’s raining, cloudy, dark, that’ll change the images.”

It will also draw live feeds from major events at the Burchfield and from around the globe, Metz said, and will eventually include time-lapse footage from the Rockwell-Elmwood intersection and other locations outside the museum.

Milbrand and Wales pitched their original $100,000 plan to the Burchfield Penney board of trustees in November. They have since seen it balloon into an approximate $435,000 project, with endless donations of supplies and ideas still flowing in.

“For this type of project, any museum in the world can say we want to do this, go out and find an architect, find video artists and come up with the concept,” Metz said. “What’s so unique about this is how the community came together and all pitched in. Not a single person told us no — yet.”

Milbrand’s idea is drawn from the work of Charles E. Burchfield, of which he said he wanted the gallery to reflect. Burchfield was highly regarded for his unique takes on nature in his artwork.

“I’m definitely interested in Charles Burchfield and his ideas about the changes and the cycles of nature, the very subtle changes in nature that happen, especially in Buffalo,” Milbrand said. “From early spring to mid-spring to the end of spring, it’s very different. The birds are different, trees are different; it changes a lot, even day to day. So I was very interested in trying to create a piece that would visualize and document those sorts of changes and that’s sort of where the idea came from.”

Burchfield Penney will utilize the exhibit as a part of its “Second Friday” series, where the museum will debut new art on the second Friday of each month.

Metz said the concept’s originality is what caught the museum’s eye as it strives to accommodate the demands of an ever-growing digital art scene. This project, he said, gives them something no other museum has.

“As the museum of record for Western New York, it’s our job to show the history, but also make room for new things that are happening,” Metz said. “So this is a real combination of adapting the old to the new. … It is quite unique. There are a lot of nice things in video all over, but this is art.”

Meg Knowles, an associate professor within the communication department, will also be among the conglomerate of community artists whose video work will be featured in the gallery, Milbrand said.

“This creative collaboration was an incredible partnership between two SUNY institutions that brought a breadth of innovation and perspective to an engaging project that will greatly enrich Western New York’s artistic community,” Buffalo State provost Dennis Ponton said in a release. “We are proud to have been involved in such a dynamic visual arts endeavor.”

Brandon Schlager can be reached by email at [email protected].