Engineers of Illumination: 'The Illuminated Palace'

Kevin Cain's video installation artwork The Illuminated Palace is a part of the projected art series Engineers of Illumination: A Projected Light Project presented by Optic Flare to coincide with the California Historical Society exhibition City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair.  The CHS exhbit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). Other artists joining Kevin in the projection series include the Optic Flare founders Scott Stark and Kerry Laitala (Shimmering Spectacles and The City Luminous: Spectral Canopy Variation, respectively), Ben Wood (Lopa Pikta [Rope Picture]) and Elise Baldwin (Field of Vision).  The exhibition and installation series are part of the PPIE100, the Bay Area’s year-long citywide centennial celebration.

In The Illuminated Palace, Kevin Cain presents a series of views that together aim to 'dematerialize' the Palace, imagining it as Maybeck may have conceived it during the early stages of his creation.  Kevin notes "Maybeck wrote that he was uncomfortable with the limitations imposed on the Palace by being built in the real world, which he saw as separate from his ‘ideal’ conception. While Maybeck acknowledged the beneficial realities imposed by actual building, in the case of his Palace he expressed regret that it was not possible to transcend these constraints. I have tried to imagine the Palace as Maybeck may have wished it could be."

To download the images shown on this page, please click here.  For a summary of the piece or to visit the installation, please see the California Historical Society web site description of this work. For a source discussing Maybeck's conception of the Palace, please see: Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect, Sally Byrne Woodbridge and Richard Barnes, 1992.

Below are stills from the film sequence, along with quotes from Kevin Cain.


The Palace of Fine Arts rotunda as it may look if its lagoon were flooded by sea level rise.

To download a video preview of the above shot, please click here.

"My goal was to evoke the ready-made ruin Maybeck unveiled one hundred years ago but also the potential inundation of the Palace -- and San Francisco's shores -- one hundred years from now.  Situated in the coastal perimeter of the City where sea level rise is expected, I am interested in Maybeck’s image of Palace as a folly surrounded by water. The periphery of San Francisco is forecast to lie in an expanded ‘lagoon’ as sea levels rise; the Palace's tructures will potentially take on the appearance of small islands. The Palace is projected to be invaded by wetlands by 2115. This structure, conceived as a folly or ruin one hundred years ago, may be destined a hundred years hence to become the real thing."

For information on sea level rise estimates in the region of the Palace, see this page.

Pinhole photograph of a caryatid

To download a video preview of the above shot, please click here.

"In this piece as a whole, I've been drawn towards pinhole photography:  photography without a lens. This is both because early lensless photographic techniques were used in the era of the PPIE, but also because these photos abstract the subject and modulate color saturation in a way that is reminiscent of Maybeck’s gouache sketches for the Palace. For me, the romantic character of Maybeck’s sketches rhyme with pinhole photography. Pinhole photographs of the Palace also call to mind the large camera obscura, itself a lensless imaging technology, that once looked out at the Palace’s rotunda, reflecting it into a viewing chamber."

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The Great Scintillator, adapted

To download a video preview of the above shot, please click here.

"The film still above is a study in reflected light. What if the 'Great Scintillator', a focal point of the actual PPIE, could have been physically placed within the Palace rotunda? This sequence imagines what such 'archival footage' might have looked like; this night scene could be the rotunda dreaming. The light seen here streaming from the Palace rotunda at night was developed in three dimensional space from photography of water caustics (reflected light). I am interested in the effects of reflected light, both from water caustics playing on the surfaces of the Palace and from the coastal atmosphere itself."

Below are links to two studies for reflected light caustics from the lagoon surrounding the Palace:

Refracted pinhole photography of a column arcade

(the architectural structures) “swam in a rich haze that took from them all suggestions of unfeeling stone, and made them seem only the airy nothings of a dream---structures which might blossom into tiers of vague arches, or ornate colonnades, maybe, and change and change again, into all graceful forms of architecture, while we looked, and then melt deliciously away and blend with the tremulous atmosphere." - Mark Twain, An Innocent Abroad

"To present the Palace as Twain’s “the airy nothings of a dream”, I blended pinhole photography, long-range digital camera techniques and computational imaging. In the above image, the cascade of multicolored droplets was created by sunlight reflecting and refracting off microscopic tears in the pinhole aperture used for this exposure. This patterns changed throughout the image sequence, as the raking lighting angle shifted slightly. I made dozens of different pinhole 'lenses' for this piece; each pinhole gave different exposures and quite different artifacts."

Urns and water montage

"I am interested in how fog contributed to Maybeck’s ethereal conception of the Palace. I wanted to use fog as tool for abstraction, a bit like Monet’s well-known experimentation with the effects of ground fog, snow and sun in his haystack painting exercises."

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Points of light

"This image is the result of combining together pixels from a very large number of pinhole photographs of the Palace."

Rotunda urns photographed in light fog

"In each part of this piece, I am interested in the interaction of fog, sun and time at the Palace."

View of the Pacific, near the Palace site

Cherry blossoms bordering the Palace rotunda

Column quadriptych

'Columnated ruins'

Imaginary symmetric arcade

Fountain diptych

Northmost columnade

Figures moving through the rotunda

Rotunda urns

Rotunda urns diptych

Sun over water quadriptych

Time lapse pinhole photography

Water droplet quadriptych

Western columnade


The Angel Island Inscription Project Pilot

"The poems at Angel Island are among the most dramatic finds in American literature" writes Karen L. Polster at the University of California, Riverside.  Between 1910 and 1940, as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, California.  While interred under harsh conditions, many people carved poems into the Douglas Fir wallboards.  More than graffiti, these poems have become a touchstone for aspects of the Chinese experience in California.

The Museum of Chinese in America, when planning their new building in New York City, chose to include a prominent reference to the poems at Angel Island.  Cynthia Lee, VP of Exhibitions, Programs & Collections for MOCA, proposed creating a replica of an important poem in the Immigrant Station.  While there are hundreds of poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station, a poem referred to as #69 is regarded as an especially fine example of classical Cantonese techniques.


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The Smithsonian Museum's work in 3D Digitization. INSIGHT Board member Kelly Roberson brought the Smithsonian's recent 3D work to our attention, including publicly accessible data for 3D printing similar to INSIGHT's Maya Skies Archive (  To read more about the Smithsonian's plans, please see this news story:


Current Questions in Authenticity. This day-long symposium at UC Berkeley will be held February 3, 2012, as is open to the public.  Several people on the INSIGHT team will be participating.  The event is free and open to the public; RSVP to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


INSIGHT's Kevin Cain is serving on the International Scientific Committee for VAST 2011. The International Symposium of Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Culture Heritage (VAST) conference will be held October 18-21, 2011, in Prato, Tuscany, Italy.  Kevin previously co-chaired VAST 2004, gave the keynote for VAST 2003 and has presented papers in other years.

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