Bentley Meeker Pops the ‘H’ in Harlem

Think of it as Harlem’s new Eiffel Tower, if only for three months.

Bentley Meeker, the bright and thoughtful artist who designed the lighting for Burning Man’s temple twice – first in 2011 and again in 2013 – believes it’s time to call attention to one of New York’s authentic neighborhoods.

“In the last 20 years, the character of New York has been erased by money,” he says. “But Harlem is an incubator with a bona fide middle class, a lot of character and a real culture.”

He wanted to do something grand in the place he’s lived for 15 years. So he proposed a huge “H” –  to hang soon inside an oval from a viaduct at 125th and 12th Avenue, and lit up at night for all to see. Carefully engineered and prominently placed, it’s certain to call attention to the neighborhood he loves.

“I wanted to do something on a large scale in Harlem, because it has a big personality but doesn’t have a lot of love,” he says. “People aren’t afraid of it but think it’s not safe, so I hope they’ll start checking out the shops and restaurants here.”

His “H” is 66 feet wide, 35 feet high and at its thickest point, 20.5 inches across – almost a mere line as seen from the side. Its aluminum truss perimeter is an oval primed with LED lighting; the “H” itself is lit with plasma.

It’s not meant to be looked as a simple landmark or even a spectacle, but to make people think about the very nature of light in their lives. He wants observers to explore light as human beings, rather than remove themselves from it and think only of visibility. His art, he says, explores that chasm between the spiritual and human levels of illumination.

“Our souls are made of light – I’m a firm believer in that,” he says. “We’re drawn to light, so if our soul is light, and we have a world of light around us – then what’s real enlightenment?”

All New York will have the opportunity to discover that at a grand illumination of his “H” on Wednesday, June 25 at 6:30 PM in Harlem.

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