‘A beacon of light guiding us home’: This LIC art project is a candle that wind or water can’t extinguish

Photo by Beyti Barbaros

Kayaking instructor Michael Smalley isn’t afraid to take his students out at night on the East River since a 50-foot-tall candle in Long Island City acts as a lighthouse for him.

“When returning from a kayak trip after dark, the ‘Candela’ projection acts as a beacon of light guiding us home,” said Smalley.

Candela is the name of the large emerald green candle that can be seen at night on a smoke stack near the Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City. It has been illuminating the neighborhood since July 4, 2017, and is another public art piece by Brooklyn-based artist Andrew Ratcliff.

In 2016, Ratcliff was approached by Plaxall Gallery managers Matthew Quigley and Paula Kirby to create public art for the neighborhood. Ratcliff was happy to do so, and immediately after seeing the smoke stack near the gallery he was struck with the idea of placing a candle on it.

“I can’t really explain why,” said Ratcliff.

But although the image is simple in appearance, making it a reality was no easy feat. It required the help of a team of engineers, photographers and videographers, according to Ratcliff.

At the bottom of the smoke stack, a theatre light creates the candle’s green base while a projector plays video of the candle flame on a loop. The projector is housed in a tan case along with a computer that turns the video projector on and off, sends the video footage to the projector and restarts the video after 15 minutes when the candle goes out.

The box that houses both pieces of equipment had to be engineered with wind resistance in mind, since any slight movement of the projector could throw off the image of the candle.

Ratcliff has painted murals across the city and is especially known for a piece called the Waterfall Swing, which looks exactly like it sounds.

The artist said that he likes the element of surprise and delight that his work usually brings to the public. But Candela does more than that. It amplifies all the traditional meanings of a candle, including hope in darkness, according to Ratcliff.

That’s a contrast to the emotions evoked by the other art piece on that same building — a Matthew Barney piece counting down the days until the end of President Trump’s first term in office.

More from Around New York