Immersive public art redefining our relationship to public spaces
by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 23, 2022
The element of light with its quintessential ephemeral quality has found immense popularity among art practitioners. To the site-specific art installations by the Dutch collective Vendel & de Wolf, light has been integral to build their historical and cultural contexts. The collective formed by the Dutch artists Paul Vendel and Sandra de Wolf, for over 30 years now, has been making 3D semi-abstract installation with materials, from anodised aluminium, polyester, cardboard, styrofoam, copper, plexiglass, duckweed, and even ice. Terming their in-situ work "growing structures", Vendel & de Wolf likes to unravel the inherent beauty of the existing environment.
In an interview with STIR, Vendel & de Wolf talks about the presence of light without which you could see nothing, "Light has something immaterial and is therefore very suitable for making thin/airy 3D constructions. Light has often played a key role in our work, be it neon, translucent, bright or serves the purpose of projection or reflection." The large scale installation, Whole Hole, showcased during the Amsterdam Light Festival, is a tunnel made of 520 meteor LED tubes. The play of coordinated and broken light systems makes the audience have a second glance at the tunnel that would otherwise not draw their attention. "Light, when it shines, draws the response of the people. It is a way to entice people to look. Once they look, the art installation also becomes visible to them."
The installation Fluxit has travelled to different places in The Netherlands, South Africa and China from the year of its inception in 2019 to 2020. It is broadly based on the installation Swarm – an installation designed after swarm intelligence and welded on location with 500 triangular modules. Fluxit is the result of the low budget defined in the art of making structures - the use of bamboo and randomly pasted aluminium tape. Vendel & de Wolf informs, "During the day it is a messy bunch of sticks. In the dark, the orange light from the LED tubes reflects in the messy folded foil on the bamboo creating a colour gradient. The LED tubes that are fixed at the end of the bamboo go out completely for a while. As a result, these are experienced as sparks. Fluxit is chaos that turns into order when it gets dark and people recognise it as a fire. People prefer to see something they can comprehend rather than chaos. The decision to see the fire in this is therefore surprisingly quick for most people." Moreover, the sculptural installation in a way simulates the energy of 'fire', it has a particular ritualistic purpose in many cultures. It is about leaving the past behind and moving forwards.
Fluxit is dependent on the place of its location and dimension. The bamboo is just hammered into the ground and connected with cable ties. Yet, the scale of installation and its material poses unforeseen challenges. The artist-duo states that besides the unpredictable weather conditions, "You need to have a reliable product. That is why we also like to keep it simple, you do not want malfunctioning lights halfway through the festival. Using a tested prefab led-tube gives us this assurance. They give you the freedom to easily build whatever you like without worrying about technical trouble. For Fluxit we had meteor led-tubes customised in orange and with a slightly different program for the tubes at the top. We had to just plug in and the installation was ready."
The title of the work A Tales of Two Cities is derived from Charles Dickens' eponymous novel. The novel written about decadence and self-indulgence in times of rising industrialisation had a strong impression upon the artists. The similarities between the two eras - the nineteenth century and the present day cannot go unnoticed. Building upon these resonances, the cities carved out of plexiglas are illuminated by thousands of LED lights. When the artists gave control of the lights to the public, it turned into a metaphorical gesture to inadvertently invite them to take responsibility for their actions. The power to lead is intrinsically linked to the ownership of consequences.
The futuristic appearance of the works demands the curiosity of a wide audience. Since the variety of viewership carries both personal and multiple interpretations of work, the artist-duo refrains to pre-impose any definitive meaning to the work. Yet, Vendel & de Wolf are hopeful to inspire people to make their own stories. The artists with the installation Origin in March 2022, having the 14 windows made for an underpass in Amsterdam - reconfirms what they aspire to achieve with their works: offering the audience an opportunity to contemplate and reimagine the world with their perspective. "This work will have a lot of stories to narrate since all the windows, part of the installation, will have a different image,” conclude Vendel & de Wolf.
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