by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
The darkness as a metaphor has a variety of connotations synonymous with evil, ignorance, and secrecy, to name but a few. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, another period of darkness ushered in since the consequences borne by the human body if caught by the virus were shrouded under mystery. The lockdown across the nations had put life on hold only for unprecedented to take a course of its own. The shift in social life as the world tries hard to retrace the normality hints at the potential harboured by humans to adapt and change. The kinetic and light installation Living Lantern by NEON and Frankie Boyle Studio is an attempt to symbolise a streak of hope and guidance through periods of darkness. The Living Lantern was shown for the first time in Brisbane, Australia, as part of the World Science Festival and Curiocity, a 17-day festival that celebrates science, engineering, mathematics, art and technology. The project was installed in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, as part of the Taiwan Light Festival 2021. At the later stage, it will be installed at locations far and wide across the globe as part of a five-year tour.
The NEON is an award-winning design practice based in the UK that investigates the commonality between the disciplines: architecture, art and design. The projects ranging in scale from objects up to monumental art installations are carefully designed with the materials, even if familiar with the viewers, and are delineated in such a shape and form that is hitherto un-imagined. Frankie Boyle is a visual artist based in the UK, whose works at the intersection of light, colour and form are aimed to offer a sensorial experience to the audience. The collaboration between the two studios demonstrates the responsiveness of humankind to a crisis and how we are capable of adapting to change and working together when we face new situations.
For more than a year when the public spaces wore a deserted look, the project Living Lantern is designed to be inviting, offering a sense of hope and joy and activate the public spaces that have recently been quiet and felt unsafe. Frankie Boyle of Frankie Boyle Studio in an interview with STIR states, “Light is the porthole of our emotions and how we connect to the world. It is the most influential force around. Light is vision. The audience is drawn into soft ambient hypnosis that allows them to dare to dream in such economic times." Lanterns are a universal symbol of brightness, transcendence and guiding light. In various cultures they are viewed as symbols of love, wisdom and illumination, they also symbolise the inner light that guides the soul through periods of darkness with the promise of a new day. Lanterns are a reminiscence of the innate ability to find the way in the world – a reflection of invincible resilience.
The public installation has a dynamic, wind-responsive outer membrane that opens and closes to filter the light from its core. Visitors are invited to spend time observing an object in constant transformation. This project has a meditative effect as the structure is constantly evolving according to the interaction between the wind-powered movement and the animated light sequences. The artwork is designed to offer distinct modes of visual appearance: during the daytime the visitor can experience a version where the timber of the artwork is highlighted, then in the evening when it is dark, the artwork is activated with light much like a real-life lantern.
The component used with the installation is constructed of Koskisen Thin Plywood which is counterweighted with a steel nut and bolt. The mechanism used means that the component sits horizontally when there is no wind but lifts up or down when there is a breeze to close up the structure. From the outset, the Living Lantern was designed to be a tour-able artwork, with this in mind the frame for the project was developed using CNC technology which offers precision and accuracy and allows parts to be replaced with ease. This approach meant that the artwork could be designed from a series of components that fit together like a jigsaw on-site, allowing install and deinstall with relative ease. Engineering practice Elliott Wood was engaged to help refine the frame for the artwork and ensure it is structurally sound in an external environment.
Talking about the key takeaway from the immersive experience around the kinetic art installation, Mark Nixon of the NEON says, "We hope that people who spend time observing the Living Lantern will feel that they are grounded in the present moment. This can be a profound and important experience for people in these times of incredible uncertainty and turbulence."
Engulfed in the period of uncertainty the last year has pushed the creative fields to restore optimism in our everyday lives. Meeting such aspirations efficaciously stands the Living Lantern only to dissipate the clouds of despondency.