Into the Light: An Interview with Christopher Bauder of SKALAR.ART
Above: SKALAR light installation by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray. Photograph by Jules Jessurun.
Light art – atmospheric and mesmerizing, while being simultaneously geometric and analytic, presents a striking paradox: it requires active and often multi-sensory participation. The genesis of the Light Art movement occurred in the late 1950s and lasted through the 1970s, with an entire group of artists following similar conceptual philosophies. Perhaps the best-known representatives of the Light Art movement are Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Dan Flavin, who instead of pursuing the abstract painting, began to engage in a more sensory way of experiencing art. Light was a very important element in their works. Artists used it in various forms: from fire to projectors, from projections to neon lamps. However, the works were still exhibited in a museum context. Light art is a relatively young art movement, and it is ever evolving thanks to the LED revolution. Light is a versatile and highly visual material that can be used both abstractly and figuratively.
One of the most recent breathtaking light art installations we’ve come across is SKALAR, a work that explores the effects of light and sound on human perception. Here, light vectors, kinetic mirrors and multi-channel surround sounds interact and evolve in reaction to one other. SKALAR seeks to provide a meditation on the fundamental nature and essence of basic human emotions, where light is treated as a solid material for the artists to manipulate as a sculpture. Light and darkness as endless cycles of day and night define our perception of time and influence our emotions. .ART talked to artist Christopher Bauder, an artist deeply fascinated with light.
Christopher, what was it that drew you to light art?
I have always been fascinated by light – fire, light bulbs, LED, lasers, projections. As a child, I began to experiment and build my own table lamps. When I was at art school, I switched to LED and computer controlled lights. I studied digital media art and began to combine software driven applications with light and motion. This basically became the foundation of my work today, using light as a medium to create art.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work? How did you start your collaboration with Kangding Ray?
I normally approach a new project from two sides. First, I work on an idea for a new technology or a novel way to combine existing technology; to create the canvas and tools for this particular piece to work with. In SKALAR’s case this technology was kinetic mirrors with moving lights tracking. Secondly, I brainstorm a subject matter for the narration – a simple abstract story. With SKALAR, I wanted to experiment with the 8 basic human emotions along the so-called Plutchik wheel (* SKALAR is based on Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust and joy).
Collaborating with David Letellier (Kangding Ray) on this felt like a no-brainer. David covers a broad range of emotions with his music, and uses a wide range of genres from ambient experimental pieces to hard techno. When a mutual friend introduced us at a festival, I asked him whether he would be interested in collaborating along the lines described above. He immediately agreed and from that moment on we began developing this piece together. I would sketch patterns and ideas for colours and animations and he would do the same for the music. We then mix and matched thoe sketches and began to refine them until everything came together as one unified piece, where visuals complement the sound and vice versa.
What is the concept behind SKALAR? How does light and sound interact in this installation?
In SKALAR, light and sound are materials that form a bigger entity. SKALAR creates almost synesthetic effects from the tightly interwoven relationship of visuals and sound. Light, sound and motion are the key triggers of human perception. These triggers create an immediate response and your brain is stimulated into imagining things that are actually not there. Each sound has a complementary visual and vice versa. So, both become unified and are perceived as being synced and connected.
What emotions do you think are triggered by SKALAR?
SKALAR was designed to be an experience for visitors; a place that is nothing like our day-to-day surroundings. Somewhere that has no time and no direct message but carries a feeling or an emotion. SKALAR is a scripted show, but at the same time it provides you with a space for your own interpretation and introspective views. SKALAR gives you food for thought, but it does not tell you what to make out of it, exactly. An integral part of the piece is the visitors themselves. SKALAR suggests images and sound on a very abstract level, but it triggers the audience’s personal memories. When it comes to SKALAR’s narrative, what we’re trying to do is to evoke 8 different emotions with the combination of light, colour, sound and motion. But which part of the piece represents what emotion is left undefined and open for interpretation. What feels sad or aggressive to someone, might feel uplifting or stimulating to others. Your interpretation and feelings will depend on your personal taste and upbringing.
What visual references do you draw upon in your work?
We use very general topics and basic geometries that are familiar to everyone. Everyone can connect a memory or emotion to these themes – for example, the outer space, being underwater, thunderstorms or the sun. These are very simple images but they immediately trigger an emotion. Therefore, we can use very abstract means to evoke a specific picture in someone’s mind. We also use references from science fiction and fantasy movies, connecting them to the aforementioned topics.
SKALAR has been exhibited in several locations. What is the geography of the project? And do you plan to show it in more countries?
We are planning to show SKALAR around the world. We have already exhibited in Berlin, Zurich, Mexico City and Amsterdam. SKALAR turns out to be universally understandable, independent of your background or education. This piece is literally made to be experienced by everyone; it’s made for people of all backgrounds and ages. You don’t have to be a media art lover or electronic music fan to enjoy the show.
SKALAR’s online presence exists within .ART domain zone. What was the key decision making factor that made you opt for this extension?
I was very happy to find out that the new .ART domains were still available for many of my existing and planned art shows and installations, so I decided to migrate them to this very distinctive and unique domain extension. It is descriptive and short. At the same time, one can quickly identify the respective genre and its contents. Its immediately clear that any website within this domain zone is related to art, so the viewer has a clear understanding what works they’ll find within it. I think a .ART domain is the perfect solution to display art related content on the web.
An artist and designer working in the fields of light and installation art, media design and scenography, Christopher Bauder focuses on the translation of bits and bytes into objects and environments, and vice versa. Space, object, sound, light and interaction are key elements of his work. In 2004 he founded the multidisciplinary art and design studio WHITEvoid, which specializes in interactivity, media, interior architecture, and electronic engineering.
Bauder has brought his installations and performances to events and spaces around the world, including Centre Pompidou Paris, MUTEK Montreal, The Jewish Museum Berlin, The National Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan and the National Opera in Beijing. He received international attention for his citywide light art installation “Lichtgrenze” created in 2014 together with his brother Marc to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There are few musicians who manage to explore the convergence between techno and experimental as successfully as David Letellier aka Kangding Ray. The aesthetic domains of his home labels, Raster-Noton and Stroboscopic Artefacts, epitomize his complex sound; an aesthetic that tests boundaries, evolving tirelessly in its exploration of texture, rhythm, and sound design.
Letellier’s foundations in rock and musique concrète give his music a vitality and uniqueness that has won over fans the world over, from discerning avant-garde electronica listeners all the way to devoted clubbers. Those who have been following Letellier since his debut album, 2006’s Stabil, will recognise not only his meticulous and constantly developing approach to sound design, but also the conceptual gravity behind his releases.