by Sukanya GargMar 16, 2020
If a piece of art could evoke a sense of emotion in the viewer, the artist has managed to achieve the purpose of the exercise to create art. The New York-based new media sculptor Jen Lewin has been successfully making work that hauls the viewers from the state of being a passive receptor to an engaging audience. For more than 20 years, Lewin has conceived and created the on-site sound and light sculptures that are open for the public to interact with and immerse in. Working at the interface of art, architecture and technology, Lewin is a trained architect, who strives to reveal an unprecedented site of physical reality to her viewers.
To make the work that complements the architecture of the building or a room, her most frequent medium is light. The conspicuous presence of light intertwines with the visual perception of the space to create an extraordinary experience for the art community. Speaking to STIR, Lewin says, “Light is how we define and experience visual space. Even our earliest human records include stories of using fire to illuminate a cave wall. Light guides how we see, experience, and visualise ‘everything’ we look at.”
Artists have continued to hark on the effects of light making an art piece, be it in the period of Pointillism or Impressionism. Over the years, with the advent of technology, the nature of the pigments of paints was switched with the act of deploying tangible lights in the works. Lewin elaborates on this, “It also guides how we create and share art: be it by using coal from a fire to draw along a wall, using pigment and colour to create the appearance of light and depth in a painting, or powering and mixing electricity to illuminate LEDs in electronic work. I believe that all artists ‘work with light.’ In my case, this may seem more obvious, but at its core, my work is no different than using pigments to represent a visual experience in a more traditional painting.”
The work titled The Pool, spread at a quarter acre, with more than a hundred outdoor lights, trigger a process of interaction amongst each other as soon as the audience puts a foot on it. Lewin continues, “The Pool, for example, was inspired when camping on the west coast of Australia, where I found myself surrounded by hundreds of miles of moonlit tidal pools (surrounded by natural reflecting light). Other works such as Laser Harps were inspired from moments as a child, sitting and watching streams of sunlight passing through dust by my window.”
These works take over city blocks, allowing communities to enter into a playscape of light ‘together’. It is not just about the work; it is about being in the work together. – Jen Lewin
To the enormity of the on-site works, technology plays a key role in an effort to smoothen the human experience around the work. Lewin’s creations may appear to be a complex network of technology, yet they remain immune to the weather condition of the place they are situated in. Since the works, such as Euclid and Cosmos require a tremendous amount of engineering, iteration, testing, and ideation, it takes years to complete. Lewin declares, “They start in a creation phase, which typically requires months of technical invention…exploration, new code development, new PCB (electronic) development, research, and iteration. They then move to a collaborative fabrication phase, which includes months of tests, adaptations, and complicated fabrication processes both internally as well as with others. And finally, the development phase includes weeks of tinkering with code to make the interaction ‘just right.’ A project like Cosmos or Euclid may take years to produce and, for me, is also ‘never finished.’ To this day, I am still working on new interfaces and methods for Cosmos: new ways to create a more connected, more meaningful, more interactive, and a more playful illuminated landscape.”
Despite the deep run of technology at multiple levels to create and sustain the work, it is the immersive experience of the audience that completes the art piece. As much as a collaboration between the people of various fields is involved at every step of the artistic creation, it is also “about creating a connected, meaningful community experience”. For Lewin, it is not an isolated practice that defines her art practice, “I create work that is large enough to enjoy on your own, but more importantly, can be enjoyed with others. These works take over city blocks, allowing communities to enter into a playscape of light ‘together’. It is not just about the work; it is about being in the work together.”
In the world punctuated by disparate experiences, if the field of art, as Lewin expounds, “can create, engage, inspire, and illuminate community”, it ascertains a connected experience with others to nurture emotive bonds over conversations.