Developing as a Researcher
Figure 1: ‘Please do not touch’ sign. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Date: 19th November 2018. Photography: Wanshu Li.
This research blog explores a range of artworks and exhibitions that related to the researcher’s project. The researcher uses the forms of recorded videos and photography to investigate a variety of interactive arts situated contemporary visual art field. By studying, observing and being part of these art events and activities, it helps the researcher to critically reflect on proposed research questions particularly in how light can be engaged as an intangible material to enrich the interactivity and sensory experience between audience and art object. To develop skills and insights of being a researcher, visiting art galleries, museums, jewellery exhibitions and attending artists’ talks are currently the main undertaken activities for the researcher to grow researching skills.
In this research blog, it will introduce how these activities have informed the research practice, and it will propose a plan for future development for this research study. It will participially analyse the representative sensory interactive artworks in the contemporary art field that have significantly engaged the audience to become part of the show. The investigated artworks of this study are, to a great extent, changeling the traditional perceptions of how the audience could get involved in art exhibitions. Moreover, it will also reflect on the researcher’s own exhibiting experience at JOYA Barcelona Art Jewellery and Objects Fair in October 2018, and analyse feedback that the researcher received from the audience. In conclusion, it will indicate how these activities and experiences help the researcher to develop a further understanding of the importance of sensory interactivity and audience's participation in contemporary jewellery, and how in other art disciplines that artists have explored the relationship between light, object and interactive sensory experiences.
Beyond the Showcase
Undoubtedly, galleries and museums have historically functioned as avenues that keep precious, historical or rare art objects. When entering a gallery or museum, people have common sense that artworks are forbidden to be touched regarding its fragilities and values. On the other hand, the ‘taboos’ may also disconnect people from fully experiencing, understanding and feeling a piece of art. Most galleries and museums have become places mainly for visual appreciations and interactions. This may raise questions such as whether it is possible to provide the audience with a multi-sensory interactive experience in the show rather than passively being an ‘observer’. Can interactive sensory experiences be enriched by combining innovative forms of displays or showcases in an exhibition? Through investigating interactive artworks, it may potentially encourage jewellery designers and makers to think about how jewellery can be engaged with the audience in new ways.
The Space Shifters exhibition at Hayward Gallery of Southbank Centre in London displayed a range of contemporary sculptures and installations that explore visual perception and space. The sculptures and installations also engage with the way that the act of looking involves the whole body. By moving around or entering a room-sized piece of artwork, the art pieces provide the audience with a multi-sensory experience in the gallery.
The work 360° Illusion V by Jeppe Hein is composed of two large moving mirrored panels. As well as reflecting the light and surrounding environment, each mirror also reflects its twin. As the artwork rotates, the visitors can see themselves, and other visitors suspended within its curious double reflection, a visual effect that prompts Hein to ask, ‘Are you outside or inside the work? You don’t really know’. Although light does not play a critical element in this piece of work, it visually invites the audience to explore a created 'virtual world' by the artist.
Figure 2: Jeppe Hein (2018) 360° Illusion V . Date: 2nd December 2018. Photography: Wanshu Li.
Video 1: Jeppe Hein (2018) 360° Illusion V . Date: 2nd December 2018. Filmed by Wanshu Li.
Moreover, another piece of interactive art object at the Space Shifters exhibition that attracted the researcher’s attention is the body sculpture -Interactions of the Abstract Body- by Josiah McElheny. McElheny has been exploring the body for more than 20 years. “By incorporating the dancers, who have been carefully choreographed, McElheny alludes to the wild parties of the Bauhaus and reminds us that Modernism had its fun side too” (Kelly 2012). Sited on the performer, this mirrored sculpture can also be seen as a body adornment that creates an interactive conversation between the wearer, object and the viewer.
Video 2: Josiah McElheny (2012) Interactive Abstract Body (Ellipse). Date: 2nd December 2018. Filmed by Wanshu Li.
Light Art Installations
Artificial light has been widely applied to a range of visual art field such as art installations, glass and sculptures etc. In this section, it will introduce a group of artists who implement LEDs, mirror, light reflections and plasma in their work which create an immerse and magical visual effects.
Anthony James’ work is inspired by concepts of the universal and transcendental to demonstrate the impossibility of their representation. The light effect is both esoteric and industrial, orphic and distinctly concrete. The work Lcosahedrons (Video 3) creates geometric globes of twenty identical triangular facets which were a mathematical experiment in unity used by Plato to demonstrate an ideal compositional system of perfect symmetry in three dimensions. The work is composed of the glass, steel, titanium, and LED structures bring a rigid and gleaming tangibility to the abstraction of the numerical calculation of flawless coherence. By moving around the Lcosahedrons, it seems to lead the audience to get into a science fiction scene and triggers viewers’ a sense of curiosity to explore the sense. James’ objects are compelling approximations, facsimiles of understanding and belief thousands of years old that come down to us on our own terms of modern metals and technological light.
Video 3: Anthony James (2011) Lcosahedrons [glass, steel, titanium, and LED structures] Filmed by Wanshu Li at SOFA Chicago 2018.
Video 4: Exploring light, space and movement. Reflect on Jeppe Hein’s work -360° Illusion V. Filming Location: Birmingham City University, Curzon Building. Date: 12th December 2018. Filmed by Wanshu Li.
The work Eyewitnesses of Infinity (Video 5) by Tim Tate creates an optical and bodily illusion of infinity through apparently limitless space. There is an intimacy created by viewing deeply into a circular opening as if peering through a portal to another reality. Tate implements 3D printed elements combined with infinity mirrors to expand the sensation of unlimited space in the artwork. The constant repetition of imagery also speaks to us of timelines: ones that go endlessly into the future or extend endlessly into the past.
Video 5: Tim Tate (2011) Eyewitnesses of Infinity [aluminium, mirror, cast objects, LEDs] Filmed by Wanshu Li at SOFA Chicago 2018.
Ben Tullman develops a series of plasma glass work which creates an interactive relationship between light and the body (Video 6). The plasma glass objects is filled with a mixture of various noble gases with a high-voltage electrode in the centre of the object. Placing a fingertip on the glass creates an attractive spot for the energy to flow, as the conductive human body is more easily polarized than the dielectric material around the electrode providing an alternative discharge path having less resistance. Although the plasma globe or plasma lamp is not unfamiliar with us, from an interactive point of view, the light Tullman's work becomes a tangible and interactive design medium that engages the senses such as vision and touch.
Video 6: Ben Tullman (n.d.) Plasma Glass. Filmed by Wanshu Li at SOFA Chicago 2018.
'Please Do Touch the Jewellery'
“Touch is a universal experience, but ultimately, it is also personal and individual, and I wanted each encounter with an artwork to evoke an individual’s response drawn from his or her own personal history, not to serve as personal communication from me as maker to the individual as receiver ”(Kemske 2009:334).
Art that is a piece of artwork is not manifest in the material object itself, but rather in the individual’s experience of the object (ibid). Jewellery as body adornment is supposed to be touched and worn no the body. According to Cheung (2014:20), jewel itself is physically incomplete, and requires something tangible, emotional or intellectual from the wearer to develop this part of its final meaning. Therefore, the wearer of a piece of jewellery plays an important role in redefining the object through fully engaging with it.
Figure 3: Wanshu Li (2016) Jewellery series Go with the Glow neckpiece. Photography by Pete J Jones.
The concept of researcher’s jewellery practice aims to explore a multi-sensory wearing experience in jewellery which involves different sensory perceptions such as visual enjoyment, tactility and sound. The exotic jewels are designed to appeal to the hand and ear as well as the eye. For example, the beads mounted on their moving nylon wires are irresistibly tempting to touch, and all the pieces create subtle sounds as they move with the body. The researcher’s fascination with sea creature, dance culture and laser light show and state performance have encouraged her to add a further visual dimension to the work. As work is largely inspired sea creature such as coral reef or jellyfish which illuminate with brilliant colours, the researcher has explored a range of light emitting and light reflected materials applied to the jewellery. Through experimenting with ultraviolet-reactive nylon and fluorescent paint which combine to produce a remarkable intensity of colour when the jewellery is lit with UV light. The fluorescent effect of the jewels provides pleasurable visual enjoyment for both wearers and viewers (Video 7).
Video 7: Wanshu Li Go with the Glow series jewellery. Filmed by Pete J Jones, SHOT 67 Independent Commercial Film Production, 21 Dec,2016.
As a jewellery designer and maker, the researcher was invited to exhibit her work at JOYA Barcelona Jewellery and Objects Art Fair in October 2018. In order to investigate how sensory interactive experience could be further enriched between the light, wearer, viewer and object, the researcher designed two ultraviolet-light boxes for displaying ‘sea creature jewellery’ which aimed to add a further visual sensory engagement with the audience. The researcher invites the audience to touch the jewellery and to play with a UV flashlight to explore the colour changing in daylight or under ultraviolet light. On the exhibition, the researcher received positive feedback from the audience. By combining UV light boxes, UV flashlight and audience participation, the jewellery largely triggers the audience’s curiosity and changes the role of the audience from passively observing the objects to becoming part of the show (Videos 9 and 10).
Video 8: Wanshu Li interviewed by 2018 JOYA Barcelona Jewellery and Objects Art. Design Museum of Barcelona. October 2018.
In conclusion, by investigating interactive art installations or participating in jewellery exhibition, these activities greatly inspired the researcher to rethink and revalue the relationship between artist, audience and jewellery, and what values, interpretations and interactions that wearer can create when interacting with a piece of jewellery or wearable art. Reflecting on the practice-based research which aims to investigate how interactivity and sensory experiences can be enriched and extended in contemporary jewellery, the researcher considers it is essential to develop a new understanding of the audience's role in contemporary jewellery from interactive art and design perspectives. For a further plan, the researcher will continue updating this research blog and conduct a further investigation of the interactivity and sensory experience in contemporary jewellery and other art disciplines. It will explore how the wearer may unconsciously shape a piece of jewellery or wearable art objects through sensory interactions between the body and the object, and study how wearers and viewers with their personal histories and experiences could potentially bring new values and creativity to a piece of artwork.
Video 9: JOYA Barcelona Jewellery and Objects Art Fair 2018. Design Museum of Barcelona. October 2018.
Video 10: JOYA Barcelona Jewellery and Objects Art Fair 2018. Design Museum of Barcelona. October 2018.
Video 11: Experiment with ultraviolet light.
Video 12: Experiment with ultraviolet light and finger touch.
Cheung, L. (2006). Wear, wearing, worn: the transitions of jewels to jewellery. New Directions in Jewellery II, Lin Cheung, Beccy Clarke and Indigo Clarke (eds.). Black Dog Publishing.12–23.
Kelly, E. (2012)'Interactions of the Abstract Body' by Josiah McElheny, London [internet]
Kemske, B., 2009 Embracing Sculptural Ceramics: A Lived Experience of Touch in Art. Senses & Society 4(3), 330-342.