Saturday, 6 June 2009

Light Fantastic

United Visual Artists began with 3 people, in a room, with a bright idea. 12 members later the artist collective are glowing with the success of their phenomenal light installations for live concerts, including Massive Attack and Battles. UVA’s latest photographic unveiling ‘Deus’ is an experiment in the emotive power of artificial light.

How was UVA formed?
UVA started as three people in a room - Chris Bird, Matt Clark and Ash Nehru, responsible for production, art direction and software respectively. Each member has their own core skill, but all are equal partners in the creative process. UVA has applied this ethos as it has continued to expand - we now have a total of 15 people with a diverse range of skills including animation, programming, architecture, lighting design and electronics.

What does UVA do?
UVA started out creating stage shows for live music acts - our first job was for Massive Attack's 2003 tour '100th Window'. We have since diversified and begun to create large-scale responsive public artworks and permanent architectural works. Our work straddles the boundaries of art, design and commercial services.

Is there a particular style and ethos that runs through the UVA productions?

There aren't any clearly defined rules - but we do feel an attraction for simplicity, minimalism, rhythmicity and showmanship. We're also somewhat obsessed with new technology, although we're ambivalent about it, and this finds its way into our work.

Tell us about the role of the audience and how they engage with UVA work?

When we started, we were building light installations that were separated from the audience by the stage pit (and security cordons and bouncers); our public art installations are all experiments in how this artificial line could be crossed, and the audience could enter the work, have a more
intimate connection with it, and affect it in some way. The question of how to do this while retaining some sense of mystery is a continuing preoccupation in our work.

And Deus - how has this idea developed through research and experimentation?
The music video we made for the New York avant-garde band Battles was shot in a quarry in Wales. We became fascinated with the contrast of the stark natural/man-made background with the light sculpture we created, and felt that this was an interesting avenue to explore.

We also noticed that we were drawn to pictures of the faces of people experiencing our interactive works (such as Volume or Tryptich) and wanted to try to distill that emotion into a photograph in some way. As the project developed, we became interested in the way that our artificial light changed the environments we placed it in, almost creating a 'new space' that only existed for the duration of the shoot. This idea of light as the 'creator' led us to the title of the exhibition.

Which artists are involved in this project?

Projects at UVA generally advance through a process of discussion and argument, so most people in UVA get involved sooner or later. However, the main driving forces behind 'Deus' were James Medcraft, who specialises in photography and animation, and Matt Clark, our art director. Alex Dey and Yasmin Mokhtarzadeh were also part of the team that actually created the installations - no mean feat considering the weight of the equipment that had to be carried by hand into some fairly challenging environments.

By Esther Bradley

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