by Manu SharmaMay 18, 2021
Light art has a rich history, extending back to the development of safe and cheap electric lighting technology towards the end of the 19th century. However, experimentation would not pick up in earnest till the early 1920s, during the time of the Bauhaus and Constructivist movements. Since then, the practice has become fundamentally intertwined with visual and musical art, and even political and religious events. Across the decades, from Albert Speer’s affecting Cathedral of Light features that became major fixtures at Nazi Party rallies from 1934 to 1938, to visionary artist James Turrell’s decades-long efforts to turn the extinct Roden Crater in Arizona into a giant naked-eye observatory, as it began in 1979, the play between light and shadow has come to define a major element extending across creative, political and religious ambits. To quote art critic Hillarie M. Sheets, “The interplay of dark and light has been a theme running from Greek and Roman sculpture to Renaissance painting to experimental film. But as technology advanced from the glow of the electric light bulb to the computer monitor, artists have been experimenting with actual light as material and subject”. One such practitioner is Silvia Fabiani, who is Italian by birth but currently lives and works in Switzerland. She has a background in literature but moved towards digital artistry and light manipulation through her own interests, eventually becoming a self-taught light artist. She describes this as “typical” of her, happily explaining, “I am very independent”.
Fabiani explains her draw to light manipulation saying, “I am attracted by light, light is the physical matter used in digital art. Nothing visible exists without light; light transforms things. Light was the first creation of God”. Fabiani’s perspective is very interesting and harkens back to light art’s ability to dazzle and enthral audiences as it was briefly presented through the examples mentioned earlier. In the case of both Speer and Turrell, their work has been considered to manifest a spiritual experience of sorts, which, morally speaking, in these diametrically opposed examples, can be seen as having led to both bad and good outcomes. However, the craft in itself must not be held accountable to human morality; the craft is, by its very nature, amoral; i.e. a blank slate existing outside the realm thereof, and one that may only have human rightness or wrongness superimposed upon it. Returning to Fabiani, she describes her practice as manifesting a “sort of music made of light”, and explains that she often works in conjunction with readers, actors and musicians, depending on the event and venue in question. In such cases, Fabiani’s captivating light artistry no doubt adds another dimension to the proceedings of whichever event she is involved in, enthralling her audience and bolstering the effect of her co-performers’ various practices.
The artist elaborates on her creative journey: “It started in a very simple way, somebody requested me to project scenery in a show for children. I made a sort of magic forest, and during the performance, I felt my backdrop had a huge effect on the children”. Humorously, she adds, “So, I just went on”. Discussing artistic inspirations, Fabiani cites Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardaine as being most crucial in the development of her creative vocabulary. The two-blend visual and performance art with intricate light sculptures, and the influence they have had on Fabiani is not hard to see. However, comparing their works with hers, one wonders if Fabiani’s practice, which is perhaps less technically masterful, is not in fact the more soulful of the two? Another major source of inspiration for Fabiani is old stained-glass paintings. Again, we return to religious associations, and visions of her work interacting with the walls of churches begin to seem like an obvious pairing. This is only bolstered further by the artist’s own explanation regarding the venues she sees her work functioning well in. “My venues can be very different; they can be festivals, concerts, theatre shows, or even those of a religious type, such as cathedrals,” she says.
Fabiani’s creative process is grounded within digital art, and is focused around projection mapping techniques. She says, “I use 3D animation software, several filters and creative coding like Interactive Shader Format, then Millumin for projection and mapping”. Fabiani continues, “I work for a few hours every day because a day without making art is a dark day to me. In the last year a particular theme has become very important to me: nature, earth, the life of plants. This is something I experience not only through art, as I spend much time walking in the woods or by river banks and lakesides”. Like many digital practitioners, it is the artist’s affinity for the natural that first and foremost informs her practice, manifesting itself as the beautiful, natural forms she often manifests.
Fabiani has been a practicing artist for 10 years, and mentions that in the future she aims to work more in naturalised spaces. “I want to work in gardens and parks, and project onto trees and plants; I like unusual environments and strange places where people would say ‘it is impossible to do anything here’,” she says. Speaking of the recent quarantine, Fabiani mentions that it has had a largely positive impact on her practice. In her opinion, her personal practice has developed greatly as a result of diminished professional opportunities. As the artist explains, she no longer has to worry about organisation, logistics and the orders of clients. Fabiani’s perspective brims with the same positivity that her art does, and her approach to adversity is heart-warming. Speaking of the future, the artist expresses an interest in digital hardware and the direction in which it is evolving. The artist tells STIR that she sees artistic craft such as light manipulation developing further through smaller, lighter and more powerful machines. She mentions, “software is also developing very quickly”, and one may only imagine how her visual artistry will change along with it. Perhaps the greatest change will come not in form but in access; specifically, the access she will gain to the areas she mentioned wanting to perform in.