For six weeks this summer, we participated in an Artists Residency at The Banff Centre, an arts institution set into the Rocky Mountains of Western Alberta. Led by Wales-based artists Heather & Ivan Morison, the residency drew thematically from contemporary ideologies surrounding public art – a subject too seldom discussed in critical contexts. Nestled into our “white tower” on an inclined face of Tunnel Mountain overlooking the perpetual Christmas town of Banff, we incubated with our peers, discussing, debating, daydreaming, and making together. Intended as an open-ended, workshop-guided but ultimately independent exploration, the Residency sought to illuminate each participant’s internal “Blueprint for Happiness.”
Above: Our studio at The Banff Centre
Before considering the light bulb, we were fascinated with light – its magical ability to create ephemeral space, its resonance in the darkness, and its societal importance. On a physiological level, human beings are drawn to light as moths to a flame. While natural light is the origin of life, artificial light couldn’t exist without the innovations of man. As such, it is evidence of civilization, a source of clarity at night, and a beacon of safety. In cities, we use artificial light as a language (green means go) to the point where it is now socially intuitive. Increasingly, public art utilizes light as a medium, sometimes in an effort to hybridize art with infrastructure, but more often to simply capitalize on light’s overwhelming allure. While the spectacularization of light art is problematic, excessive light wields a dark power – it becomes dazzle camouflage, manipulating attentions, blinding viewers, and overwhelming the stars. It is this interspace, wherein light blinds us to the darkness, that we intended to explore at The Banff Centre.
While our recent work emphasizes materiality and the re-appropriation of mass-produced objects, it is the immateriality of light and its effects on our perception that lies at the essence or our interest. Typified best by the iconic works of Studio Olafur Eliasson, light art can not only change what we see, but how we see it. And while, like an afterimage, this change in sight may be only temporary, the epiphanies spurred can be permanent.
The Deep Dark was conceptualized over the course of our residency. During the past three years since CLOUD catalyzed our entrance into the enticing world of Light Art, we have observed the powers and instrumentalizations of the medium (which we ourselves have been repeatedly subject to). Our interests have grown increasingly tangled in the concurrent antithesis to light: darkness.
The subtext of our residency was focused on an interested in increasing the site-specificity of future public works. Our travels are rapid and sporadic, and we are seldom granted the luxury of engaging directly with viewers to establish true, site-specific dialogues between the sculptures/installations and the space. As darkness is an intimate and subjective experience, we took advantage of the low-pressure, non-product oriented nature of the residency to experiment with a new process: conceptualizing new work through a series of interviews with fellow residency participants, peers, Banff Centre staff, and each other.
Interviewees were invited to our studio, where we asked them to blindfold themselves, creating a comfortable state of artificial darkness. In this environment, we asked them a series of questions centering around the tension between light + dark, clarity + disorientation, intimacy + fear, asking: why are we afraid of the dark? Is our fright learned, perceived, or real? Are light and darkness equal opposites? Is darkness a presence or an absence? And so forth.
Through these conversations, we hoped to tune in to a collective undercurrent between participants, inviting them to co-imagine a collaborative experience with us. In response to this input, alongside our own research, previous observations, and in accordance with the limitations of the site, we developed a new site-specific installation, intended to be installed in the forest surrounding The Banff Centre – The Deep Dark.