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Photo by Chris Casella

Everything is Illuminated

It’s gray, the first overcast chilly day of October, but it’s bright inside Lumos Columbus, all white walls and blonde wooden floors. Brian Yetzer waits near the south wall of the Short North gallery with the hint of a Cheshire grin lurking at the edges of his mouth. In the corner nearby, a 3-D printer quietly builds a six-inch bust of Nikola Tesla. The miniature layers of filament stack like gauze bandages pressed together in bands of pearly sediment.

He stands in front of a poster covered in purple Spirograph-style designs, overlaid with repeated yellow and white and purple silhouettes of some object that looks like a factory or a vertical sewing machine.

A group of gallery-hoppers circle him as he holds up an iPad that displays a real-time video feed of the poster. He presses a button and the factory-sewing machine springs to life on the screen, now an animated Tesla coil spraying bolts of white-blue alternating current into the virtual atmosphere.

“This,” Yetzer says, “is my augmented reality.

In July, cofounders Nick Davis, Garrett Davis, and Nate White opened Lumos Columbus as a marriage of two ideas: first, it is an incubator for technology startups, a place to provide mentoring and support for young entrepreneurs and fledging companies while they work to bring their products to market. Second, it’s an art gallery where those same forward-thinkers can exhibit some of their newest technologies and educational video games, alongside futuristic tech-driven installations curated by Lumos.

They chose Lumos’s spot on High Street for its heavy foot traffic, hoping to lure the public with eye-catching interactive exhibits. The founders want to inspire a love of science and innovation, as well as a supportive cultural ecosystem for engineers within the community.

“There’s a massive amount of talent from an engineering perspective in Columbus,” Nick Davis said. “I spent eight years in L.A., and then I had to come back in order to be able to do this, and I’ve now found that these engineers are here – they’re excited about building and staying in Columbus.”

The incubator focuses mostly on engineers from the software world, and it currently houses three startups: Paint BiNumbers, a traditional video game and mobile app development company; Lizzypop, a duo making wearable interactive tech accessories; and GamesThatMoveYou, an Ohio State spin-off in partnership with Children’s Hospital that designs therapeutic video games for stroke victims who have lost mobility.

“There’s a massive amount of talent from an engineering perspective in Columbus. I spent eight years in L.A., and then I had to come back in order to be able to do this, and I’ve now found that these engineers are here – they’re excited about building and staying in Columbus.”

Lumos’s mass appeal exists where the business innovation meets the artistic creativity in the gallery. The September exhibit contained installations that explored the four elements of nature through technology, including that of CCAD student Erek Nass, who sought to transport people to his summer vacations in Wisconsin. At one station, attendees were encouraged to take a deep breath, and just as they began to smell cedar and pine and burning fire, they heard embers popping and crickets chirping and a river flowing. But the sounds and scents disappeared once they took a step back. Davis guided people through the installation and explained the technology – for example, the precise directional speakers embedded in the wall – so that they could understand the workings behind the sensory illusion.

It’s October 4, the 30th anniversary of Gallery Hop, and Lumos is hosting a community build at its Maker Station to commemorate the occasion. A pen that prints 3-D designs chatters like a tattoo gun as patrons take their turns contributing to the communal month-long project.

The October exhibit, Life in 3-D, is largely dedicated to art pieces created with 3-D printing technology. An installation called A Series of Volumes by Ohio State professor Kristy Balliet explores the concept of volume in architecture using small models. Lumos curator, Kayla Malone, contributed two wiry geometric designs created with the aforementioned printing pen. Meanwhile, the 3-D printer continues its work near the front window; it will take four hours to complete the mini Nikola.

Brian Yetzer came from New York on behalf of his company, Yetzer Interactive Design, to show off his main installation – four of the Tesla posters, each with an iPad resting on a stand in front of it. He leads group after group through the educational augmented reality presentations, some of which teach viewers about the Tesla coil while others discuss the life of its inventor.

Two young-looking guys approach Yetzer and ask if he’s familiar with science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, and he responds by asking them about visionary (and camera-phone inventor) Ray Kurzweil. An animated discussion ensues in which the group collectively geeks out about the technological possibilities on the approaching horizon. Augmented reality is just the beginning, Yetzer explains. He talks excitedly about technological singularity, the point at which artificial intelligence will exceed human intelligence, potentially altering how the world as we know it exists. We are 20 years away, he says, from virtual reality universes so staggering, so beautiful, that people will never want to return to the physical world.

“People are going to lose their freaking minds,” Yetzer says.

Around Lumos, people are not quite losing their minds per se, but there is the excitement that comes from experiencing something unexpected and new that seemed like a fantasy not long ago. And that energy is what Nick Davis and exhibitors like Yetzer seek to capture, whether through explaining the sensory illusion of fake memories of Wisconsin or the conjuring of augmented reality. That’s the magical hook they use to sell the community on the benefits of innovation.

The problem with magic is that once the trick is divulged, the mystery laid bare, the fun and wonder are gone. But at Lumos, they capitalize on these revelations. They are the New Wizards of Oz, also taking delight in pulling back the curtain to reveal the turning cogs and humming gears. They believe there is equal mystery in the mechanisms of science, and its manipulation is its own special kind of magic. 

For more information about Lumos, visit lumoscolumbus.com, and to learn more about Yetzer Interactive Design, check out yetzerinteractivedesign.com.

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