DEBBIE LONG USES LIGHT AND TIME as tools for her art. Her crafted “light ships” grow from the tradition of land art, pulling inspiration from her Taos surroundings as well as her hometown of Gallup. The immersive works are often housed in old RVs, where plywood walls feature clusters of formed glass aglow with natural light.
“The pieces are hand-built as containers for light,” says Long, whose work is featured in Light Ships, an exhibit opening March 19 at the Harwood Museum of Art, in Taos. “They’re more about what they do than how they look.”
The light ships require viewers to spend time inside them, observing how light filters through the glass shapes and how it changes over an hour—or three. Appreciating her art takes rumination; it cannot easily be captured in an Instagram post or grasped in a quick peek.
“The entire process of building these is so slow,” says Long, who adorns each ship’s interior with hundreds of handmade glass pieces. “It takes years.”
Long removes the RV’s roof and replaces it with a translucent material. Next she builds a plywood box, forming the walls of the piece. Holes in the plywood are fitted with glass so that light shines through them. Every glass shape is formed in an individual plaster mold that Long breaks when removing the figure.
The ships frame the sky and the natural world in a way that helps people experience the magic in everyday events—like the sun setting or a cloud passing overhead. “The language of these is universal: color, light, space. It is outside of words,” she says. “You don’t need any special kind of knowledge or history. We have all the equipment in our bodies that we need to experience this.”
The Harwood exhibit includes her latest work, Willa, a 1970s RV adorned with amber glass and installed outside the museum, and a special light-centric environment created inside the museum. Timed entries allow visitors to sit inside the light ship and settle into the experience. (A few sunset viewings are planned over the show’s seven-month run.) Visitors can also see a film made by Long and some friends who took the RV to a remote, sage-laden area of northern New Mexico.
“I really asked myself the question: If I could do anything with this work out in the world, what would it be? For me, the answer is to install it out in the landscape near a small cabin and you could go and stay overnight,” Long says. “Over time it became more and more apparent that the consumption of the piece is really slow.”