Spotlight: Light Artist Jen Lewin

Posted: April 15, 2013

 

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Communikey caught up with light sculpturist Jen Lewin last week to find out more about her process. Jen’s work will be installed on Communikey Festival 2013 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Click here for a list of events at BMoCA during CMKY and check out her website

CMKY:
so tell us a little bit about yourself…

JEN:
My name is Jen and I’ve been making publicly activated interactive sculpture now for about 15 years. I’m originally a trained architect, so a lot of my work has a spacial sense to it. I make pieces that are as big as buildings or big as rooms, i like to make things that are completely immersive and I think that there is a tie into having had studied architecture and wanting to sort of “build space”. Almost all of my projects are focused on this idea of public interaction, where I’m creating a large sculpture, but on of the most important components is that people can interact and play with it together, and in doing so different things happen – community forms, people talk to each other, they meet each other and there is a connection that happens within the piece itself. I think that its not coincidental that I am making art like this at a time where we do that online, and on Facebook, and we’re using all these digital things to connect, we creating community and i’m consciously trying to do that with sculpture – making big sculpture where 100 people play and connect within it. So I think its an example of really representing whats happening already in our lives.

CMKY:
Whats informed and inspired you as you’ve gone through your practice?

JEN:
I’m a product of my childhood – I grew up on Maui, in upcountry, a really beautiful place where the light quality was incredibly magical and the clouds would come in kind of eye level and the light would stream through – there would be daily, absolutely gorgeous lighting effects, and now here I make light art! It definitely effected me. My parents were amazing, and were quite forward thinking. They would host these big conferences on our property, and people like Buckminster Fuller would visit, so there was always a sense of community and gathering and sharing of ideas. Those elements are really part of everything that I do – this idea of community and the light. All of my pieces, even though its funny because they are so high tech, they all have this root in something that I saw in the environment that inspired me, whether it was a sunset or, for example The Pool. I was hiking with some friends in Australia, in this place where the tide comes in 14 miles, and we ended up in a place where there tidal pools are far as you could see. It was night and the moon came out and refracted in the water, and we were standing around all these pools of light – this started that entire piece. So, its interesting, all my pieces have their root in something that I saw, not necessarily just nature, also cities and urban environments, just something that had experienced in real life that I want to recreate.

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CMKY:
So you have this whole influence from all these environments, but you work with technology – Can speak a bit about the technology that you work with?

JEN:
Technology for me is not an end, it really is a tool. It allows me to make really dynamic things, so this idea of connecting community, and making connection, that’s something that technology just enables. Technology lets you make something animatronic or robotic, it allows you to make something that moves, it allows you to play with light, to make a sculpture illuminate. Without technology i don’t think I could do these things. I love traditional art, but I am looking for something more dynamic, that grabs you in a dynamic way. My technology background is really self taught. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of technology knowledge. I can build my own circuits and program things myself.

CMKY:
What are some of the specific tools that you are working with right now?

JEN:
Well its changed over the years. I started out really doing everything from scratch, I build all my own PCB boards and programmed everything using micro controllers. I often had to program everything in Assembly, which is really just a horrific language to have to use, but that gave me a really great grounding and basis of knowledge. Over the years there have been better tools like the Arduino, which is amazing. I did graduate work in NYC, and Tom Igoe (who helped create the Arduino) was part of our community. The Arduino actually came out of that environment, after I had left. The Arduino is fabulous, so I actually now use the Arduino, its cheaper than spinning my own PCB’s for prototyping. When we go into a real project we do our custom boards and custom circuits because then you have to replicate, and you need a 100+ and it does make sense to make your own. They are programmed in whatever we get our hands on, whether its Basic or C, or if you’re going back to more of the root programming languages.

From another perspective I use CAD all the time, in fact everyone I’ve met in my world who does this, in order to pitch and sell these projects you have to render them and you have to do the construction drawings, so as much as I actually don’t think about it, I probably use, whether its Auto CAD or Form Z, or SketchUp or whatever it is I’m using a CAD program probably more than anything to produce drawings.

 

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CMKY:
What are you working on right now?

JEN:
I have a solo show with 6 new sculptures – a new kind of laser harp which I’ve never made before. I’ve been making laser harps for a long time so this is sort of “time coming”.

CMKY:
What’s a laser harp?

JEN:
Laser harps are either a sculpture, or a piece or an instrument, where you have laser beams that act as a virtual string. If you pass your hand through them they make music. There’s different complexities or levels to how they work, whether its just a simply on/off or whether they sense speed. I’ve been making them for a long time. The focus of my work has been to make these public laser harps with 100+ strings where everyone has to play music together. It goes back to this idea of the group interaction. They’ve been great and very well received. I’m one of the only people in the world that makes them and this scale. Over the years there been some technology things about my harps that’s just been annoying from a long term installation perspective. About a year ago I went to Burning Man with a really old harp, and I realized it was time for me to revisit the design and create a new more portable harp. The first version of these new haprs will be finished in about 3 weeks.

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CMKY:
So there’s this show with 6 new sculptures..

JEN:
it’s at the University of Colorado, every piece is publicly interactive and uses light. . The show is called “It’s Electric”. It starts May 31 and it goes into late July and some of the pieces may stay up until the fall.

CMKY:
You also have work thats going out to different festivals?

JEN:
I have a giant piece called The Pool – there’s one version of it going to CU and there’s another version touring. We are taking it on the Electric Daisy circuit, so its going to Electric Daisy NYC, Electric Daisy Chicago, Electric Daisy LA, Electric Daisy Orlando and Beyond Wonderland. Its then going to move to a museum in Arkansas in the fall and it might possibly go to Portugal somewhere in the middle, we have a lot of requests for it. Its very popular at big festival types of environments.

CMKY:
Is there anything else you want to share about your work?

JEN:
I would like to see more artists explore this idea of bringing artwork into the public realm. Lets bring art into the public, and then lets really allow large groups to interact within the work. I’m not going to lie, its really hard to make something that works for one person but also works for 10, 15, 20, 100 people, but I think there’s the potential to explore this more community activated, public form of work.