Artist Daniel Shieh Debuts an Otherworldly Installation at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York

There’s a portal to another world on the bank of New York’s East River. That’s the idea behind artist Daniel Shieh’s latest work, Passage to TOI-700 d, which made its debut at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens last September. It’s part of an exhibition called “Sink or Swim: Climate Futures,” on display through March 12, which asks artists to reflect on the challenges humanity faces during a pivotal moment for environmental change. Shieh’s work takes its name from the newly discovered planet, TOI-700 d—roughly 101.4 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Dorado—which, theoretically, could support human life.

A tunnellike structure enclosing a staircase, the 120-square-foot laser-cut steel sculpture was developed with Rhinoceros and Enscape computer-modeling software, prototyped using 3-D printing, and then finally built on-site over three months. The stair rises 17 feet into what appears to be the natural end-of-day firmament but is actually a permanent LED-lit horizon created with pigmented epoxy resin cast on a clear acrylic sheet, a technique Shieh adapted from the artificial skylights used in retail and healthcare spaces. “Originally, I had the light placed higher in the sky to create more of a midday effect,” Shieh explains. “I experimented with angling the light lower and it resulted in a sunset, which generates a sense of a destination and also creates more striking orange reflections.”

While the installation’s theme is space travel, its shape is a subtle nod to an earlier frontier: the covered wagons that represent manifest destiny and the American West.

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