BEN Our inspiration comes from our own daily experiences. Everyday life begins with morning walks—passing through parks, the urban structures and, occasionally, by the water. As we walk through our local area, we think and talk about what is happening in our lives and through this methodical regular action we find inspiration.
Akin to the work of artists Gilbert & George (b. 1943, b. 1942), which reflects the experience of living in their own local urban environment, our inspiration is intermingled with daily life. We chat with the people we meet regularly on the way, such as our newsagent, baker, butcher, the barista, the fruiterer. Through these encounters, layers of inspiration reveal themselves. Our morning walk finishes with a ritual coffee, like taking tea in a Japanese teahouse. Over coffee we read the news and see innovative ideas and take stock of shocking events. We poke fun at politicians and then an article inspires us, something new, a new idea. An article on a Dutch shipwreck in Western Australia leads to something. We scribble and sketch onto a napkin if necessary. Our inspiration comes from outside the studio, not within.
We may take a swim at a tidal swimming pool or beach. Again, this changes—sometimes the beach is calm, sometimes rough, moody, the weather might be sunny or rainy, sometimes there might be a bluebottle or stingray to remind us that we are in a wild marine environment. We go to the same place as often as we can as it frees up our thinking, which clears our minds for our art. As we swim methodically in rhythm with the water, calm, at peace, thinking of nothing, suddenly a new idea will surface. Inspiration comes as part of the act: place and nature slowly reveal themselves like an onion being peeled layer by layer. One of our favourite artists is Richard Long (British, b. 1945 ), an artist known for his site-specific outdoor installations. We love his work for his sense of place and poetic use of materials. It is no coincidence that he is a great walker who derives inspiration from his long treks in the outdoors.
'' My art is the essence of my experience, not a representation of it ''
Richard Long, Exhibition text from Richard Long: Concentrations IX at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1984
Our trips up and down the coast of New South Wales involve swimming, surfing and long walks at our favourite beaches, moving through the changing and yet somehow unchanging landscape. These trips to coastal spots can include a carload of lights and materials as well as surfboards and swimming gear, as we use the darkness of remote areas as a backdrop for experimentation.
Living in Australia, we are very far from international collections and our overseas trips are often based around seeing art galleries, design museums and architecture. We are always looking for something we have not already seen, whether it be a Zaha Hadid building, a different landscape or unique contemporary art. Methods and approaches that are new fascinate us and we always look at the way other artists and designers have surmounted the challenges that have confronted them.
RUTH Our journey into light art practice started with the news back in 2008 that a light festival would be held in Sydney. We applied to participate—it was our first attempt at a large-scale exterior light installation. I had created many light art projects previously, but all were smaller interior works. Little did we know we were at the cusp of the LED revolution and the work of light artists would highlight how the new technology could create different ways of experiencing the urban environment.
As noted by Lighting Urban Community International (LUCI) in their book on urban light (Nyhus, 2016), light art is a complex business, requiring skills across a whole gamut of fields including engineering, rigging and lighting design, as well as the creation of the artworks themselves. I have a background in industrial design and light fitting design while Ben has a fine arts background allied to illumination design and experience in the light industry. We very quickly developed a process that uses our complementary skills while developing new ones along the way.
'' We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates ''
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, 1977 (original quote, 1933)
After we have finalised an idea, I use my 3D-modelling skills to generate the form, along the way researching materials, getting samples, finding suppliers and finalising dimensions. With the visual for the application, Ben takes the form and gives it the necessary visual x-factor with light and colour to complete the concept. Our site is selected carefully and, subsequently, discussions with fabricators, engineers and riggers take place. Technical drawings are made and lighting is sourced and programmed—often by Ben but more recently I have increased my involvement in this stage. Ben’s experience in the lighting industry has given us technical and creative knowledge about the many light fittings we have used over the years. A yearly schedule evolved, where the proposal for Vivid Sydney is submitted during September, and Christmas and Easter breaks are spent working on mock-ups and light testing. Creating the work usually starts in January but comes to a head around May, with the entire house rearranged for the creation of the work. All available surfaces, such as dining and kitchen benches, are converted into workstations for wiring, soldering and assembling.
Much has been written about creative collaborations and yet they are almost impossible to define. Where does the work of one end and the other begin? Our ideas often start as joint conversations and observations which develop over a period of time—days, months, sometimes years. Our light art practice comes from our experiences and memories. These narratives influence what we create; however, underlying our work is a desire to explore the essential sensuality of both dark and light. We love the way light interacts with textures, materials and the shape of places, creating shadow and mystery, colour and brilliance.