A light post on some artistic concepts. Come for the ideas, stay for the terrible puns.
First things first, I’m dropping back to one monthly updates on the blog. Work is taking up a lot of time, and to add to it I spend a lot of the work day writing, which makes it difficult to sit down and write stuff outside of that.
The work is starting to bear fruit though, and I’ll be speaking at a conference in Adelaide this week on the work that my team is doing. We’re making headway on our goal of bringing new insights on the Australian arts sector to the surface through data analysis and evaluation. Really excited to be getting on stage to talk about it.
To top all that, after the concert a month ago I have been asked to sing with the Pacific Opera again for their upcoming Gala. So it’s back in learning mode, polishing up some Vaughan Williams and Mozart, and rehearsing with some of the top young talent in the Australian opera scene.
I’ve also been doing a lot of art stuff in Sydney, going to music and visual art events around town with my girlfriend, which has meant that most of the evenings and weekends have been packed too. The biggest thing that is on right now is Vivid Sydney, a three week long festival of art anchored by amazing light installations across the city.
There are talks, concerts, markets, and public art pieces on every day, and even the wild weather this weekend hasn’t completely stopped the events (though it knocked over one of the most popular pieces and cancelled many of the light shows).
As I wrote this, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, ready for the evening’s light show. The buildings in the city were turned various colours, which will change throughout the night. Though I can’t see it from my apartment, the Sydney Opera House each night is awash in a projected animated art piece, where the shapes of the sails form part of a dynamic display from a collaboration of Indigenous Australian artists.
Vivid only runs for three weeks, but I wish they could light up the sails all year.
I believe that art and art making should permeate everyday life; where possible we should seek to enhance what is functional with the aesthetic. Last year I got the chance to work on a project back in Dallas that was seeking to realise this idea, taking a mundane space and infusing it with art, making it a place that people wanted to visit out of curiosity and not just necessity. Creating the concept was not without its practical challenges in reconciling function with form, but hopefully it will come to fruition in the next few years.
We should try to infuse our lives with art, in our personal and public spaces, on our streets and on our buildings. In Sydney’s case, it’s true that the Sydney Opera House is a work of art in its own right (along with many of its buildings and spaces), but the projections on the sails take it to a whole new level, and challenge your perceptions of what can be done with a building.
A particularly cool thing about having a festival of art that is an integral part of your daily commute is that it got my girlfriend and I thinking about ideas for more art installations that you could put together. Seeing Vivid each day has led to a few cool/funny/stupid ideas that we thought we’d put out there. Who knows, maybe they might happen at a future festival somewhere (insert blatant request for artistic commission here).
Some concepts for light-based installations:
A Bridge of Game (not a game of bridge):
The first idea that came to mind came from my girlfriend, who was inspired by the Harbour Bridge, which has been regularly used as a canvas for art, most famously during the New Year celebrations where it is the centrepiece of the massive fireworks display. For the Vivid festival this year, it has been strung up with rows of lights that change colour and dance across the bridge throughout the night. In previous years people could interact with it through a touchscreen controller, and the tech is pretty impressive to make it happen.
It’s cool, and it inspired her to think of what else could be put up there.
The concept which emerged was to make it interactive, to create something that people could engage with directly and create excitement. She wanted something that could resonate with a wide audience and be accessible. So why not turn the bridge into the world’s largest video game display, hanging ultra-bright LED strips from the arch so as to create a grid of pixels which could then be programmed to respond to inputs, such as from two video game controllers connected at a vantage point across the harbour.
In short, we would create the world’s largest game of Pong.
People could line up to play games on the bridge, friends playing friends, families playing families, or just complete strangers facing off. It would be a big hit.
There’s some obvious practical difficulties to this in terms of getting the lighting and pixel structure right, but with project planning and prototyping they could be overcome. And with multicoloured programmable LEDs, the options are not limited to Pong. The full canon of retro gaming could be explored – giant Space Invaders, Pacman, the lot. And the grid could be used for other video-type installations as well.
Honestly, it’s pretty tough to top the current level of artistry being shown on the projections on the Sails of the Sydney Opera House right now. They’re awesome, and pretty much impossible to top.
So the only real thing to do is descend into parody.
One thing about the projections is that they only appear on the side of the House which faces into Circular Quay and the large crowds. It leaves the other side dark and unused. It seems like an opportunity to create something that deliberately lives in the shadows (sorry about the pun) of the more flashy (again, sorry) work.
Inspired by the almost guerilla-like approach of Jenny Holzer, it seemed reasonable to take a low tech interpretation of projected works, discard the whole notion of using the natural lines of the architecture, and infuse a little nostalgia.
This concept would take found handheld camera film reels, the kind that turn up at garage sales and at the back of your Grandma’s closet, and project them on the sails, the same way that people would gather around a bedsheet hung on a clothesline to watch a family film of their camping vacation to Bonnie Doon or Burrill Lake. Grainy, unsteady, overexposed footage of the ordinary but relatable.
We could even take it more low tech, invoking the classic Kodak slide carousels, running a projection series of random images gathered again from the garage sales and closets, or the old teaching materials that would be trotted out in school when the lecturer was tired of speaking to the class. The original Instagram feed, #nofilter.
Or we could get even sillier, and just show a Powerpoint deck of revenue model graphs...
I’m here all week, try the veal.
As well as the large scale works on display, there are tens of smaller installations scattered throughout the city, each with their own theme and uniqueness. It inspired some ideas for a few other installations that could be put in place.
The concept is a space that could be filled with translucent illuminated cubes of about 15cm on each side. People could buy them at the entrance (with proceeds going to charity) that they could program with their favourite colour, then place with other blocks on a flat area, building up a field of light, a multicoloured miniature city of blocks. For power, the flat area could act as an inductive charger system, with each block being able to relay power through induction coils to other blocks through a self-contained circuit.
To add to it, a smaller block could be provided as part of the purchase (small enough to fit on a keychain) that people could take with them as a souvenir of their participation in art making.
Over the course of the festival the work would grow in size and richness as people added to it. Structures would emerge organically as people build upon the work that has preceded it.
Throwie Wall Competition:
If you’re not familiar with throwies, they’re clever and simple LED circuits attached to a magnet that can be thrown onto metal surfaces to put light in unexpected places. They’re cheap to make and pretty hardy. In large numbers they make colourful and interesting patterns.
For this concept, a 2 metre wide by 15 metre high wall would be created, with a thin metal layer for magnetic adhesion. Visitors could buy the throwies (again, with proceeds going to charity), and throw them onto the wall. The throwies would be cleared every morning, with the highest thrown one winning a prize (throwies could be easily tagged with an identifier).
Each night, a new iteration of the sculpture would be collectively created by visitors, each morning, erased.
Portable Ganzfeld Helmet:
I’m a huge fan of ganzfeld art, particularly the work of James Turrell in exploring colour contrast illusions and the neurological effects of messing with visual perception. The exhibition on his work at the National Gallery of Australia in 2014 had a few of these spaces installed, including a one person ganzfeld chamber ("perceptual cell") which was entered by lying down on a bed that moved into the chamber, much like a medical instrument such as an MRI or CAT scanner.
It was pretty cool, but almost impossible to get to see (sessions in the chamber had to be booked months in advance). It was also technologically very intense, with a dedicated staff operator controlling the colours.
Ever since I saw it I’ve been thinking about how to create a more accessible version of the ganzfeld experience, and the concept that has come to mind is the reduction of the entire chamber to something the size of a giant helmet which could be worn (or mounted on an adjustable arm which people could then bring their head into, much like the old-school hairdryers at salons).
The helmet would be diffusely illuminated from the top, with the smooth interior surface creating the illusion of infinite depth. The relatively small size of the helmet would mean that many helmets could be made and installed at multiple sites as part of the festival.
Time and resources willing, it would be cool to realise even one of these projects sometime in the future, and make the world a little more art-filled.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
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