by Shraddha NairMay 05, 2021
The visual aesthetic, spatial setting and sensory enhancement come together to define the art practice of the Canada-based collective, LeuWebb Projects, led by artists Christine Leu and Alan Webb. As the title of one of the art installations by the collective - Melting Point - their works indeed are the melting point of a variegated engagement between the installation, site and the viewer. More often than not, the public art installations tend to have a lopsided view on creativity and criticality that falters to offer a holistic experience. Antithetical to such trends, this multi-disciplinary public art collective strives to amalgamate their training in architecture and proclivity towards art to create large-scale public installations.
Speaking to STIR, Leu and Webb retrace their journey as the professional architects who ended up making art for the public, “Our initial education and training were as architects and we practiced in the field as such initially. In parallel to this conventional trajectory, we had been experimenting with different modes of expression through participating in the creation of a variety of art-related works. Webb was involved in music, visual animation and spatial installations with a collective of friends (called ‘wabi’), creating multisensory environments. Leu was using photography as a means of research and helped create a participatory art installation. We first teamed up to create a responsive sound and visual experience for a design festival here in Toronto at an art hotel. The scale of our work has grown incrementally from project to project as we gained experience and expanded our contemplated field”.
As contemporary art practitioners are thriving to carry a distinct voice in the discipline, the collective looks for novel ways to approach humans as the core subject of their arts. Offering immersive experience is the experiential work Thermally Speaking, that uses thermography and infrared measuring instruments to know the body temperatures. The installation at Toronto's Fort York Visitor Centre opened a discussion to see if the body heat could be used as surveillance tools. The series of thermal imaging cameras transformed the body temperature of the audience to create an illusion of a curtain of light. Thermally Speaking, besides open for the public viewing, generated a special interest in the students studying lighting design and architecture.
Leu and Webb elaborate on the importance of the public art and its potential to invite and connect with a broad audience saying, “The more successful projects have the capacity to engage different publics across different networks of meaning, and different frames of reference. Depending on the artwork and its context, however, the undivided attention of an audience towards the artwork may not be a prerequisite to receiving the artwork; some projects may be intentionally located at the periphery of our attention while others require a close focus. Our approach is based on an interest in engaging people within the public sphere, in spaces or situations that may be unusual yet are accessible to a range of audiences. Ideally, our projects have multiple means of being received and perceived”.
When the art is site-specific, the spatial settings and its history equally contribute to the meaning of the art. Taking cognisance of the same, their works act as a reminder of the past in the present to talk about future possibilities. In a similar vein, the work Long Division initiated a dialogue on the history of settler-colonisers on the land around Mississauga, the Bradley Museum of Ontario in Canada. The large outdoor installation with fences set in the circular shapes in the 8,000-square-metre gardens of the Bradley Museum gives a visual representation to the binary opposition of us and them, inclusion and exclusion, ours and theirs. From the opening, the participants can enter the rings before they hit the dead end - the ring without an entry point. The participatory nature of the installation attempts to acquaint the audience with the rules of navigations and negotiations, as if, moving across the boundaries, barriers and borders.
Working on the large-scale art installation involves strong creative collaboration between people from various fields who could translate an idea into a reality. Giving a peek into the making of the installations, Leu and Webb say, “Depending on the project, the process of development may appear linear from the seed of an idea to its realisation, whereas other projects may have multiple stops and starts, discarded tangents and even continue to change following their initial installation. We work in craft, testing ideas in sketch models, as well as prototyping different materials and techniques with collaborators such as fabricators or other specific technical consultants. We were under the impression that we had generally avoided, intentionally or not, a repetition of forms or motifs from project to project, though now with the passage of time and accumulation of more works, we are able to make connections and recognise patterns in some of the directions we have pursued”.
Many a time, the concept fails to find its potential in the final art form. Holding the realm of exception, the diverse range of works by LeuWebb Projects finds the balance between the two through materials and responsive technologies to imbue the projects with an overarching experience that acts, “as a revelation - a revelation of histories, relationships, phenomenon, perceptions”.