Rochester Local

Discovery Walk Art Invites Deeper Thought: “Punctuated Asymptote” by Sophia Chai

This post is sponsored by Destination Medical Center

Installation has started for “Punctuated Asymptote” near the Soldiers Field end of Discovery Walk | photo: Sophia Chai


Discovery Walk is the newest initiative of DMC (Destination Medical Center). This project will provide even more opportunities for Rochester residents and visitors to enjoy downtown in a park-like setting while being immersed in public art, interacting with downtown businesses, health and wellness opportunities, and more. The project stretches from 2nd Street SW (Annenberg Plaza and Mayo Clinic), along 2nd Avenue SW, and will culminate at Soldiers Field Park serving as a connection between Heart of the City, Mayo Clinic, and other Rochester MN businesses.  The goal is to provide a seamless, enjoyable experience throughout some of the most utilized aspects of downtown Rochester.  It will also maintain flexibility for bike and vehicular access, civic events, and future development.

In November 2022, the construction wrapped up for the season with significant progress made on a two-block section of the project including large portions of the infrastructure that occupies approximately 70% of the construction project’s timeline and budget.

Public art is an intentional and integrated aspect of Discovery Walk’s design, not simply an added element or afterthought. Three area artists were selected by the Discovery Walk design team to incorporate works of art into the project. The artists consulted with the design team, community co-designers, and client team during the design process.

Local artist, Sophia Chai, designed Punctuated Asymptote, an integrated art installation of pedestrian lights within Discovery Walk. Not only will the lights provide accessibility and safety, but they will also convey a thoughtful message and stimulate conversation. The light fixtures along 2nd Avenue vary in height but stand at the same elevation above sea level. According to Chai, this can be seen as “a metaphor for the tenuous relationship between social equality and equity.”

Sophia Chai is a Rochester-based artist who immigrated from South Korea to New York City when she was 14 years old. Chai’s work is primarily in photography where her site-specific installations “lift the lines between drawing, painting, architecture, and photography to probe beneath the layers that have conditioned our expectations of what a picture is.” Chai’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in New York City, Minneapolis, and Chicago, and here in Rochester, she held solo exhibitions at the Rochester Art Center and Threshold Arts.

In a recent conversation with Sophia at Cafe Steam in One Discovery Square, she shared more about Punctuated Asymptote and what it means to her as an artist.

rendering of Punctuated Asymptote

Chroma Key Blue

Chroma Key Blue is a color often used in TV/Video production where the visibility of the color makes it easy to select the background and swap it for a different one.  “The paradox of this color being easily rendered invisible because of its high visibility is something I can relate to from my own experiences of being a person of color,” Chai explains.


An asymptote is “a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance.” Once the light fixtures are placed, they will be in a straight line from the beginning of Discovery Walk at 2nd Street SW & Annenberg Plaza all the way to Soldiers Field.  This perfectly straight line is meant to represent the infinite nature of the horizon line and how it endlessly connects us globally.

Varying Heights

Tom’s Auto, Elkin’s Park (from the series Bodies In Space), 2006, Asuka Goto.


A key element of Punctuated Asymptote is the varying heights of the light fixtures.  Each fixture will be a different length, but will all be the same height at sea level.

The varying heights of the light posts have several representations. First, the different heights represent the topography of southeast Minnesota.  Rochester is part of the Driftless Area, meaning it was never covered by ice during the last ice age.  This gives the region its signature deep carved river valleys, steep hills, forested ridges, and more.

The platforms the light fixtures sit on are also symbolic. “Sometimes you need to stand on a higher platform to reach the height you aspire to. This gets at the tenuous relationship between social equality and equity,” Chai says.


When a pedestrian views Punctuated Asymptote from multiple angles, they will experience the artwork differently.  From one end, it will appear as a straight line and another as a work of various heights and lengths.  Chai hopes that this will be an invitation for the viewers to step outside of their point of view and appreciate a new perspective. And stepping outside of one’s perspective allows an individual to feel empathy and hopefully create a conduit of understanding and respect needed to understand another’s worldview.

The two images below are photographs of Shaft Composition #5, 2020, and Shaft Composition #6, 2020. These photographs were part of Sight Lines, Chai’s 2020 solo exhibition at the Rochester Art Center. The images illustrate how a picture can change just by changing one’s perspective.  The two photographs are of the same studio corner, photographed from two different vantage points.

Left: Shaft Composition #5, 2020 Right: Shaft Composition #6, 2020 | Sophia Chai

A Moment to Celebrate

Punctuated Asymptote will light each night at dusk in succession, starting at one end of Discovery Walk and stretching to the other.  Chai explains this simple daily moment of cascading light becomes an opportunity to celebrate the present moment.  Many who will experience Discovery Walk and its light fixtures will be facing some of the most daunting days of their lives as they walk the path of a difficult diagnosis or illness.  The simple opportunity to view the lights turn on each day in a simple cascade that illuminates the space can become a daily ritual: a steady element of certainty in an otherwise unpredictable and scary time. Chai says she hopes people will feel invited to pause and reflect with the lights and that the daily illumination will become a gesture of hope.



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