See the Field Museum facade become a page of poetry

Marco Nereo Rotelli, Divina Natura, 2013.

Marco Nereo Rotelli, Divina Natura, 2013.

Forget the Buckingham Fountain light show or the fireworks over Navy Pier. The summer's real light spectacular happens tonight (and tonight only) on the north and west walls of the Field Museum. At 9:30pm, the writing's on the wall, as the Beaux Arts exterior is transformed into an illuminated manuscript of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, "The Divine Comedy."

Free and open to the public and viewable from the museum's north lawn, the massive light and sound installation—titled Divina Natura—is a joint project of the Field Museum and Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago as part of the national Year of Italian Culture. It was created by Italian artist Marco Nereo Rotelli, who has designed large-scale light installations for buildings and landmarks around the globe—everywhere from the Venice Biennale to Deering Library at Northwestern University (where he was recently an artist-in-residence).

Text, numerology and symbols from Dante's work spiral and sweep across the institution's walls, accompanied by music and readings of classical and contemporary poetry in Spanish, Italian, Arabic, French, Turkish and other languages. Bringing the ancient text into a present-day context is critical to Rotelli's work. The artist recalled the inspiration for Divina Natura when I recently sat down with him for an interview at the Field Museum"Years ago I was in Capri with [the poet] Robert Pinksy, and he said he was translating 'The Divine Comedy.' After this meeting, Pinksy wrote a poem for me, 'ABC.' It's incredible, this little poem about death and life." That theme of mortality dovetailed nicely with "The Divine Comedy," and tonight, a reading of "ABC" opens the light show.

Another significant element of the installation—and of Rotelli's practice in general—is its ephemerality. "We define our lives by minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, yet when a space changes for only an hour, it makes us stop and wonder," the artist said. He paused, delivering his next thought in Italian. "It's remarkable that you may perceive in one minute what you would perceive in a lifetime," he said, via a translator. "A moment full of time is as important as one year." 

See Divina Natura tonight at 9:30pm at the Field Museum, 1400 S Lake Shore Dr,

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)