Rice University lecturer debuts video installation at Day for Night festival

Rice’s Lina Dib has found a moment to pause amidst the frenzied construction taking place in the days leading up to the third annual Day for Night festival. The annual event, held Dec. 15-17 on the sprawling campus of the former Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin St., brings together cutting-edge musicians and artists who work in more modern mediums: light, sound, video and computer code. Dib’s piece combines the latter two in an installation called “Threshold.”

Lina Dib lecturer

Lina Dib will debut “Threshold” at Day for Night.

It’s been months in the making, with the last few days devoted to building a Surfside, Texas, beach — or at least the impression of that beach — inside the shell of the post office during the dead of winter.

“I’ve been here for a week,” said Dib, a lecturer in the Rice University Program in Writing & Communication and affiliate artist with the Topological Media Lab in Montreal and TX/RX Labs in Houston. “Threshold” occupies a large space on the second floor of the post office, between columns marked A15 and A17. “I’ve never been a part of something of this scale, in terms of the production,” she said. “I’m used to galleries and museums.”

This unique setting was one of the aspects of Day for Night that attracted Dib to the festival last year — not as an artist, but as an attendee. “I loved it,” she said. “It was fun because there were parts where you could feel a lot of vastness and just wander, walking acres and acres. But then there were also some cozy spots, where you could find some warmer, more relaxing atmospheres.”

As one of 19 artists selected to participate in this year’s Day for Night festival, Dib was inspired to create a piece that offered attendees one of those cozier spaces while also challenging their understanding of what art could be.

“Threshold,” which she created with the help of programmer Taylor Knapps, cycles through a video of waves crashing on a Surfside beach, shot at sunset, projected onto a 40-foot-long screen. Carpet on the floor and an interactive element that “liquefies” the images on the screen as attendees approach the installation encourage lingering; Dib hopes this will, in turn, encourage thoughtful discussions about the Gulf shore itself — a place dear to her own heart that brings back memories of years of fishing, swimming and spending time with family.

“I’ve driven a lot around that belt of toxicity where the San Jacinto River spits out,” she said. “It’s full of dioxins. There’s an EPA Superfund site there now, with all these endocrine disruptors in the waste. It’s very sad. Our world is being taken away from us, in a way, and the speed at which it’s happening is increasing and finding a sense of agency in all of this is difficult.”

And yet, those images of waves crashing on the shore are dazzlingly hypnotic, an effect further amplified by the liquefaction that takes place each time you walk closer to the beach. Motion detectors on the floor and lines of code control both this and the installation’s ambient sounds of waves crashing on the shore. “As more people approach the screen, the sound slows down and turns into a low grumble,” Dib said.

It’s art that requires an audience in a very literal sense, transforming into something new with each viewing. “Once you have more and more people, they can start working together to change the way the piece interacts, to change the amount of liquefying,” Dib said.

But “Threshold” is also a work that can be enjoyed passively, as a respite from the intense energy that accompanies a three-day-long art and music festival. “I don’t want this piece to be pedantic or preachy in any way,” Dib said, “but a place where people can relax.”

Though Day for Night wrapped up Sunday night, “Threshold” will live on. “I’m already in touch with the Galveston Art Center about having the piece in their space next year,” said Dib, who’s looking forward to a respite herself. “This has been pretty intense,” she laughed. “I’ll welcome the quiet of the gallery.”

For more information on Day for Night, visit www.dayfornight.io.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.