Light & Shadow 1901-2001


John Toth
Intermedia. Hypermedia and the Sublime.

ls2The Burchfield-Penney Art Center
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, New York  14222

May 5- August 19, 2001

Light & Shadow, 2001, fabric sculpture installation with 45:00 min DVD and 3 video projectors.

Computer animation and 3-D virtual reality model for multiple video projections within a fabric sculpture installation focusing on The Pan American Exposition 1901-2001 at The Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York.


Light & Shadow, installation view

Video by John Toth, with text from an anonymous diary of a young girl who traveled to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. Music composition by Mario Davidovitch as played by counter)induction; Jessica Meyer, Benjamin Fingland, Douglas Boyce, Kyle Bartlett.

"When the train had come to a standstill, four or five dirty faced boys scrambled on and rushed through the cars selling assorted fruits in grape baskets for 25 cents each. On through Bear Lake our train rushed and 4 or 5 miles farther on passed the Penn State line into "YORK STATE" Singing, dashing brooks, surged beneath the bridges as the locomotive thundered over, and flashing like silver, as it dashed against obstructing boulders.

Asherville, we pass by, and then, from the car window through the thick foliage of the trees, the beautiful, blue, tranquil waters of Lake Chautauqua were seen, nestling between the lovely, rolling Chautauqin hills and surrounded by the famous Chautauqua farms. Along its winding shores we saw numerous little summer cottages, some which looked like doll houses, and along the edge of the lake were launches and little row boats. Far out on Chautauqua's tranquil waters, rested several yachts; their occupants patiently waiting for the silvery fish to "bite". As the train sped on, we had a wider view of the Lake: seeing the steamers passing and repassing, churning their way through the foaming, sparkling waters; swift little steam launches, sounding their shrill whistles to the echoing hills. And beyond, the green hills roll away in the distance." from Diary of a Young Girl

Light & Shadow
was commissioned by The Western New York Institute for the Arts, as a work of art based on the anniversary of The Pan American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo.

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I began my research on the web. P-a-n_A-m_1901,  What I found on-line, was a diary  of a young girl, (that someone found in their attic), who traveled to the Pan American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, on a train, from somewhere near Sagertown, Pennsylvania.  I was impressed with the sophistication of her language and wonderful descriptive abilities to recount her journey form town to town on her journey to  Buffalo. Her diary was an excellent prime source for a 1901 point-of-view.  The diary of this unknown young girl is a thorough accounting of her train ride and stops, histories of the communities she past through. Post cards and pictures frame her writing.  Her attitude and understanding of businesses and industries along the way form a social, commercial and historical  portrait of the Great Lakes region and its integral positioning for westward expansionism.

What this girl notices is America at the height of the Industrial revolution and its transformation into the age of electricity. But often, the Young Girls language, grinds it way over cultural diversity in ways that reveal a lack of understanding of "others".  She constantly reminds us of the celebration of nature,  but at the expense of another culture.

The Expositions awaken a desire for , the spectacle and what was once entertainment has now been transformed into a media event.   This is precisely what I wanted to create for the centennial, an Intermedia Cultural Event and this diary, of an unknown young girl, was a perfect timeline for reflecting on American culture over 100 years. 

Having traveled from New York City to Buffalo on many occasions myself, I decided I would compare her 1901 journey to my own trips to Buffalo. I created a portrait of 1901 and digitally embedded it into my own 2001 journey to the "City of Lights". Through a virtual recreation of her 1901 experience I assembled photos (from the young girls diary) and countless images from The Buffalo Historical Society, The Charles Penney Research Foundation,  and videos of my own trips to Buffalo. 

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The motivating question behind this project positions Light and Shadow together in an interactive conversation rather than  a battle of "good" against "evil".  A more practical question might be, How do you create an  open space for something to happen?

Although open forums have a history of public speaking through all parts of the world.  American Identity is shaped , after all, from insights from the Greeks and others. Democracy, public speaking, the arts and educational processes are established very clearly in Plato's Republic.  from philosophy to habits of life , the Greeks are present in the language of western culture.

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The elements of what she describes covers a range of ideas that include; commerce, industry, politics, current culture, fashion, International identity, technology, art, music, dance and spectacles embracing the hopes and dreams of a new age.

Using digital media allows for layering ideas, time, images, sounds, movies, dance and words  to reveal  President William McKinley, anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, Chief Geranium, Emma  Goldman, Thomas Edison and an (unknown) young girl as they intersect in the great port of Buffalo.  

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The installation of Light and Shadow proposes to present a "playful structure" for experiencing the ideals of contemporary American culture through a look at the ideals presented in the Pan American Exhibition of 1901 in Buffalo.  Within a sea of fabric and photographic / video montage, this installation   uses new technologies in digital photography and video, internet databases and live teleconferencing are projected into a multi-room fabric installations.


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The philosophy within Light and Shadow plays off the work of Walter Benjamin who suggests that we rethink history; not as a linear construct. but rather as a layering and repositioning of images that call attention to new details and relationships to consider.




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In the year 2001 this young girl's diary is a prime source that represents the beliefs, customs, habits of a turn of the century America that creates its own image of a world that is unified by commerce and technology.






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The health of a frog is equivalent to the health of the earth. As such, frogs are the watchers, alert to change, quite, ready and at the front.









Synchronisms No. 2 (1964)
for 'Cello, Clarinet, Flute, Tape, Violin
By Mario Davidovsky
Argentine/American, 1934-
c)i performances of Synchronisms No. 2
- Jessica Meyer, cello


Music East Buffalo Media Association
"Camille's Song", Don Metz,, composer, guitar


Stares & Stripes, Judy Hill, soprano


Diary Readers

Margaret Foster, Margaret Mahoney, Lisa Toth and John Toth




Richard Huntington

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