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Illuminating Flight and Refuge

A collection of outdoor projection projects at the Moss Arts Center

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Illuminating Flight and Refuge activates the Moss Arts Center’s 2020-2021 season theme, “Flight and Refuge.” This year, theatrical and musical projects, artists, and speakers address topics like war survival, chosen and forced migration, and geography that disregards national and colonial borders. The commonalities of migration and the distances travelled remind us that, during times of crisis, no matter who we are, refuge is an urgent human need.  And “flight” suggests both a means to escape and a soaring act of beauty.  

This collection of outdoor projection projects was created by teams of Virginia Tech faculty and students to bring the Moss Arts Center and its theme of “Flight and Refuge” to life. See these works, which blend technology, mapping, personal stories, and data, projected on various exterior surfaces of the Moss Arts Center building. The Moss invites audience and community members to examine their own lives and the maps we have yet to draw. 

Those viewing the installation should observe university guidelines, wearing face coverings/masks and observing 6-foot physical distancing. 

The projections featured in Illuminating Flight and Refuge are:


Scotty Hardwig
Assistant professor, School of Performing Arts 
Zach Duer
Assistant professor, School of Visual Arts  
Renato González
International collaborator based in Mexico City 
Tanner Upthegrove
Media engineer, Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology 
Borderless Species

Borderless species is a video-based choreographic performance work for projection mapping that  examines a poetic taxonomy of borders. Using movement, projected dimensionality, and video  and image processing, the work interprets many layers of frontier spaces. Using a virtual rehearsal process, microphotography, and imagery taken from the environments of North America, Mexico, and France, an international team of artists creates a choreographic journey through the many cultural, linguistic, and biological borders that bind us together. Movement and performance by Scotty Hardwig and Renato Gonzáles, visual design and processing by Zach Duer.

Within These Borders

George Hardebeck
Facility and studio manager, 
Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology 
Phat Nguyen
University Libraries
Emily Harris 
Brady Blauvelt 
Within These Borders

The artistic direction for this project is co-led by George Hardebeck, Phat Nguyen, and Matt Yourshaw, three alumni from Virginia Tech’s Creative Technologies MFA program. This team’s members now work in academia and industry across the U.S. and have come together to produce a special project for their alma mater. The team has received support from students of the university’s Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science (ARIES) group (Emily Harris and Brady Blauvelt), which is led by Todd Ogle, as well as previous work by Nicholas Polys and Dane Webster.  

The creative team took the Moss Arts Center’s 2020-2021 theme, “Flight and Refuge,”  as its inspiration for the creation of a visually striking 3D concept work made specifically for the Moss Arts Center facility. The virtual environment is designed to be responsive to the building's architecture and unique characteristics, creating a truly site- and theme-specific work. 

Through the Eyes

Chris Pritchett
Visiting instructor, School of Architecture and Design 
Spencer Silverman
Student, School of Architecture and Design 
Ryan Swanson
Student, School of Architecture and Design 
Mei Machuga
Student, School of Architecture and Design 
Terlia Mercer
Student, School of Architecture and Design 
Meriel Carney
Student, School of Architecture and Design  
Through the Eyes

The goal of this short film is to embrace the inclusivity, diversity, and community of the Virginia Tech campus through a focus on the uniqueness of eyes. During this time of COVID-19 and mask-wearing, eyes have become very important in the process of communicating emotions to others. This piece features a compilation of close-up shots of eyes—the eyes of people from across the Virginia Tech campus and the town of Blacksburg. Zoomed in on the eyes, the shots slowly pan out to reveal entire faces.

Land Forms: 
Inequity Boundaries 

Clive Vorster
Visiting instructor, School of Architecture and Design 
Will Barron 
Alivia Cardona 
Janice Chen 
Chance Church 
Tommy Doubleday 
Johnny Frankowski 
Nick Giggenbach 
Rosemary Hobson 
Anna Hundley 
Ryan Lan 
Charley Longerbem 
Laney Mccullough 
Isabelle Patrick 
Mina Schubert 
Morgan Seras 
Megan Sheehan 
Sergey Shurkov 
Wyatt Yates 
Land Forms: Inequity Boundaries 

Boundaries — whether imposed, geographic, or of the mind — take on physical forms within shared landscapes. The conflict between an inequity and a boundary is often the cause for migration, the impetus for flight and the struggle to find refuge and free access to opportunity. These stack animations sampled from aerial photographs seek to reveal indicator conditions or evidence of inequality—economic inequity, geographic inequity, confinement, environmental blight, and xenophobia—and expose formally unseen dividing lines that exist within shared spaces.

History and Images of
Refugees from Casablanca to Today

Kelly Correa-Schmick
Katherine McArdle
Faculty Supervisor
Brian Britt
Department of Religion and Culture
Land Forms: Inequity Boundaries 

In the 1942 classic film Casablanca, Ilsa Lund and her husband seek refuge in America after escaping the Nazis into North Africa. Now families from Syria, Sudan, Uganda, and many other places also take flight and seek refuge. However, their journey doesn’t begin in Casablanca, nor does it end in safety on a plane. Their journeys are terrifying, dangerous, deadly and real. They deserve to have their stories shared...

This short silent film responds to the Moss Arts Center theme of FLIGHT AND REFUGE by connecting today’s global refugee crisis to film imagery from the twentieth century and before. Today’s global refugee crisis has more than doubled in scale just in the last ten years—around 80 million people are displaced around the world (UNHCR).

In Casablanca we see two Europeans with political ties fleeing their homeland. With the help of Rick Blaine they are successfully able to find passage to America. At its face value, it is a love story. The characters grow and change; they learn from their experiences. However, if you look behind the grey and black globe, the opening credits, you see something surprising. You see a horde of women marching, carrying their children on their shoulders. Horse-drawn carts filled with whatever could be salvaged or repurposed for a new life. Steamboats chugging across the water, thousands below decks in a seemingly windowless, lifeless ship. These are the people who truly made Casablanca. The thousands of faces in a crowd, their stories untold, and their destinations unknown. Even their successes and failures areunaccounted for. Unlike Ilsa, we never know if they step on that plane.

In this film we see Ilsa juxtaposed against refugees fleeing conflicts from as late as the 1950’s to as recently as 2017. Instead of a polished, romantic journey we see a terrifying march into the unknown, one that continues to berepeated throughout history. Both the characters and their real-life counterparts seek to flee their homelands--Ilsa via airplane under cover of night, her counterparts in the middle of the day, bags packed in a rush, without even enough time to glance back at the lives they once knew. Instead of flying, they walk. They walk through refugee camps, through towns and bureaucracy alike. Then they board whatever vessels can be procured, oftentimes illegal. Usually inhumane and uncomfortable. We see people flee Fidel Castro for Florida in the 1950’s. Then we see Asians expelled from Uganda. People in South Sudan, Syria, and elsewhere also faced refugee crises in the past fifty years. Despite this being a common occurrence, their experiences are rarely televised past background videos.

Unlike Ilsa and her rebel leader husband, these refugees aren’t being personally targeted by a tangible force. Ephemeral struggles such as poverty, destruction, bloodshed, and genocide are what force them out of their homes. They are casualties of war. Often victims of chance and circumstance. Who had no interest in the wars that stripped them of their daily lives and communities. Many of these are families, or young children.

In our short film, we see those same background characters, now finally in the foreground in stunning color, unobscured by the romance of Ilsa and Blane. We get at the heart of the story. At the millions who have lost their homes, and their lives, in conflicts far out of their control. Not only has this been true in the past, but still holds true even in these unprecedented times.This film is a call to action.

Video links

“Afghanistan - The Soviet Invasion (B).”
YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 21 July 2015

“Asians Ordered Out Of Uganda (1972).”
YouTube, uploaded by British Pathe,13 April 2014

“Syrian Refugee Crisis - Update from the Field.”
YouTube, uploaded by Save the Children USA, 17 September 2015

“Zaire/Rwanda - Refugees flee camps.”
YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 21July 2015

Other resources

Refugee Studies at Virginia Tech
Department of Religion and Culture

Explore more ICAT projects


Thursday, November 5 through Sunday, November 8, 2020
7 PM - 10 PM (weather permitting)

Thursday, November 12-Sunday through November 15, 2020
7 PM - 10 PM (weather permitting)


Various exterior surfaces of the Moss Arts Center building

In the news

Light focuses 'Flight' theme at Moss