“We are coming from an animation, generative art, screen-based work background, and for the last few years we’ve been moving over more into physical pieces and sculptures, but combining them with the tools and the methods that we are used to as digital artists,” FIELD‘s Vera-Maria Glahn explains, who set up the studio with Marcus Wendt seven years ago. “On this project it’s a team of over 15 people – structural engineers and designers, software people, lighting engineers, brilliant sound artists.”
At first glance in the distance, walking down King’s Boulevard behind London’s King’s Cross station, Spectra-3 appears like a revolving shiny satellite tucked beside the Central St. Martin’s building. Entering the space, the ambient celestial sound and choreographed movement of the gleaming sculpture and surrounding lights bring a certain personality to what would usually be inanimate piece of technology.
“The inspiration for the form was these huge radio telescopes, like in the Very Large Array [radio astronomy observatory] in New Mexico,” Glahn says. “Even just the fact that they are so big and awe-inspiring, was something that we loved. The interesting bit about it is that we very clearly identify them as communication devices but we actually have no idea what they do. We know that they are gathering information and data about all these unexplained things about our universe, but we can’t really get access to it or an understanding of it.”
FIELD developed this initial this idea, exploring the human desire to “look further, to find out, to understand what our place is in this bigger whole”. It is a strangely entrancing spectacle, quite literally coming to life, gently swirling as though searching for a signal with an almost melancholic tone.
It is the third piece in the Spectra series, the first premiering at a gallery in Oslo, and the second last year at the London design festival, each of them kinetic – moved by wind or driven by data streams – and built from reflective materials.
“We are calling them physical digital sculptures, because they are combining physical materials, kinetic movement, light and real world conditions, with procedural movement and digital controls,” Ghaln says. “And they are all playing with these metaphors of travelling into the future and space and communicating with something further out there. They are quite poetic pieces, they all resemble technological artefacts but then they have a very human behaviour, or they are talking about stories of communications or relationships. We are trying to get that contrast of technology with a human feel.”
Work began last June, when FIELD sat down with Studio Make Create to collaborate on producing the structure. They first saw the piece in full scale December, but had already begun designing movement by creating a tool with a 3D preview during research, and built software with algorisms in-house to choreograph the installation with lights and sound.
“[Spectra-3] is controlled by a custom piece of software, based on a timeline, and that timeline is the narrative that controls the movement, lights and sound,” Glahn says. “We are trying to get it very synchronized – a very tight experience to make it a really immersive piece, as if you were watching theatre.”
They worked with sound artist Michael Fakesh, using samples based on abstractions of vocal recordings, to give the sound design a “human feel”, and worked with a narrative behind-the-scenes to help ground the project:
“The narrative that we’ve worked with to design the choreography is that this object is trying to make contact, trying to catch a signal, trying to communicate with us or where it comes from, although we have no idea where it comes from, Glahn says. “Often in these very abstract pieces we have all these stories in our head, that we never talk about or write down but they’re helping us as a kind of red thread to make decisions while we are working on it.”
Other highlights at the festival include Studio Echelman’s enormous net sculpture, 1.8, inspired by the 2011 Japanese earthquake; Julian Opie’s Shaida Walking, found on Broadwick Street; the Centre Point letters, which have temporarily been moved to Trafalgar Square; Tae gon Kim’s ghostly fibre-optic Dresses and Floating Picture interactive Light Graffiti along King’s Boulevard; exotic fish swimming inside a telephone box with Aquarium by Benedetto Bufalino and Benoit Deseille; plus large-scale projection mapping on iconic buildings, a CGI elephant and glow-in-the-dark benches.
The free festival, produced by Artichoke, first debuted in Durham in 2009, and takes place from tonight until Sunday, 6.30 – 10.30 pm every evening, in King’s Cross, Mayfair, Piccadilly, Regent Street, St James’s, Trafalgar Square and Westminster.