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The Arts

Mosaic graces walls of new River Campus performance space

Artist Jay Yan poses for a photo as he installs a mosaic mural consisting of nearly 8,000 stainless steel pieces in the main entrance of the recently completed Sloan Performing Arts Center. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Los Angeles-based Chinese American artist Jay Yan installed an original mural in the University’s Sloan Performing Arts Center.

Mural for Two Walls, a mosaic by artist Jay Yan, is the newest public art commissioned by the University of Rochester.

The work appears in the entrance of the University’s new Sloan Performing Arts Center, a 30,000-square-foot, three-story building on the River Campus dedicated to creative expression through theater, dance, and music.

Multicolored folded floral-shaped stainless steel discs reflect the sunlight.
The individual discs of the mural are folded to reflect and shine in different ways as visitors approach from various angles. (Courtesy Jay Yan)

“The most difficult part of selecting a public work for a space like this is finding one that is audacious enough to prompt conversation but not so much so that it meddles with the function of the facility,” says Allen Topolski, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History who served as a member of the selection committee.

In Yan, the selection committee found a talent whose creative vision fit the bill.

Overhead shot of Jay Yan sorting individually packaged pieces with a master plan displayed on a laptop.
Yan sorts the individual discs for the mural using a computer-generated master plan. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Yan graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied media arts. For more than a decade, he has been exhibiting art installations and videos in galleries around the United States, Asia, and Europe. Yan’s website shows his range of work, from dyed fabrics to looped video installations.

He was “struck” by the more than 50 feet of wall space as an opportunity for a new kind of piece. “It’s quite visible from a distance, and you have different levels of experience as you come closer,” says Yan, who grew up in the New England area and is familiar with Upstate New York. The work is 8 feet from the ground and 62 feet wide. “This is the largest piece I’ve ever done,” says Yan.

Man in green shirt rolls large sheet of paper with floral pattern out on floor.
Yan’s friend Chris Coletta unrolls a printout of the computer-generated pattern used for the mural. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Chris Coletta and Joe Butler, childhood friends of Yan’s, traveled from Boston to work on the installation, which was meticulously planned. They arrived on site at 8 a.m. every morning from August 18 to 24, just as the River Campus welcomed new first-year students.

Yan explains that the installation process involves placing a template on the wall to indicate the location of all the holes for attaching a disc that will be drilled through. “And then we’ll go through the entire wall to create a grid of holes to attach and install the artwork,” he says.

Jay Yan wears a mask while on a scaffold drilling discs into the wall.
Yan and his friends drilled each of the thousands of stainless steel discs into the building’s walls. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The mural comprises 7,820 mirrored discs total, with 13 different types of discs. Shipped in boxes of six, each disc came in its own sleeve to protect it from fingerprints. They were custom laser cut to their shapes and silk-screened in color, making them durable. Although computer programming contributed to the configuration of the work, the “technology is not dominant,” says Yan.

Dandelions—a symbol of Rochester’s perseverance—figure prominently in the design. “I think the installation is about individual pieces coming together to create an image. There is a beauty in the individual pieces, and then from far away, there is a beauty in overall, together,” says Yan.

As you walk through the doors of the Sloan Performing Arts Center, the mural appears above and a flutter of color catches your eye as you head to the Liebner Box Office and the Mittleman Café in the Brian F. Prince Atrium.

Angled view of dandelion mosaic mural in the Sloan Center lobby area.
Dandelions—a symbol of Rochester’s perseverance—figure prominently in the mural’s design. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The discs are not flat to the wall; instead, they are folded to reflect and shine in different ways as you approach from various angles. Passersby commented on how the mural appeared to move like a windmill during the installation, but “it’s more like a light windmill,” says Yan. While the discs don’t actually move, the sunlight can trick the eyes.

And since the Sloan Center’s windows face a traffic circle on Wilson Boulevard, “Every time a car drives by, the light shimmers across the whole piece,” says Yan.

Jay Yan's mural seen from Wilson Boulevard at twilight inside the Sloan Center.
“Mural for Two Walls” seen from outside of the Sloan Center on Wilson Boulevard at twilight. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

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