Colourshift: Ross Manning+Kit Webster
McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery is Australia’s leading centre for sculpture and aspires to lead the international conversation between art and the natural environment. Through its collection and creative programs, McClelland is focussed on representing a more reflective and diverse account of emerging and emergent Australian sculpture and a broader range of contemporary sculptural practice. Aligned with this is McClelland’s mission to support and promote Australian sculptors through commissions and programs that are inspired by the fields of science, technology and the environment.
In collaboration with Asialink Arts, McClelland is delighted to presents Colourshift to South Korean audiences. Colourshift is an exhibition of new work by leading Australian new media artists Ross Manning and Kit Webster whose divergent practices are connected by a number of intriguing parallels.
Central to both Manning and Webster’s art, is their desire to inform human experience through new media to activate kinaesthetic, visual and aural experiences. Both artists also share a fascination with technology to investigate and manipulate the wonder of light and sound. Whilst Manning uses familiar forms of technology in new ways to explore the dynamics of movement, optics, light and sound. Webster offers audiences new audiovisual experiences through works conceived from advanced light and computer software technologies. In the end it is this mutual need to examine our relationship with technology and the social and cultural role it is playing in how we are and interact in the world today that makes their work so exciting.
Since the early twentieth century, artists have explored scientific principles and emerging technologies to explore movement in art. And artists continue to work with kinetics through optical and minimalist art forms to analyse the way we see, and how our experiences are engaged through perceptual and spatial devices. Furthermore, these explorations also reflected the importance of the technological revolution in the modern world, whilst for others, it was the intrinsic nature of light and the fundamental role it played in human perception that inspired their practice.
In recent times, art museums have featured exhibitions of contemporary artists who are fostering discussion about perceptual engagements in response to the decreasing divide between physical and digital realities and the rapidity in which digital technologies have influenced and expanded artistic fields of enquiry.
Through their art, Ross Manning and Kit Webster show us that by means of open exchanges between art, science and technology, the possibilities of new media art is growing, engendering new modes of expression that connect to the present moment.
The exploration of sound, light and movement is at the heart of Brisbane-based Ross Manning’s art. Playing with these elusive phenomena and drawing upon physics and technology Manning creates playful kinetic works assembled from found and off the rack objects that range from rope, fans and lights to record players and data projectors. Once assembled, Manning’s automated arrangements fascinate through their uncanny tempo and luminous and sonic output.
Initially, sound and its various iterations was Manning’s primary curiosity. From a young age, he began experimenting with and recording sound works with custom built tools and instruments created by whatever was at hand. At first he played along with these instrumental forms, leading to public performances as the duo Faber Castell with Alan Nguyen and sound festivals with experimental band Sky Needle. Since 2006 Manning has also exhibited sonic assemblages as standalone self-composing installations.
Parallel to this, Manning’s early experiences working as a service technician repairing audio visual equipment provided him with an intimate understanding of techno mechanics including the principles of optics, and in particular how light is produced and utilised by these devices. Respectively, the nature of light aligned with Manning’s already acute understanding of sound. Light has synergies with sound in the way that it is formed and moves within space, so it is no surprise that his experiments with sound later informed explorations with the perceptual influences of light. As Manning explains,
‘The intensity of pure coloured light made sense to me as much as sound did. I would see these amazing faults with motherboards, and optical faults in projectors especially, that had as much power as audio did. It cut through to something deep and primal. So I started using elements for these machines, manipulating them to create work that was like sound; an extension of sound (for me) silent compositions’
Furthermore, underlying Manning’s inventions is an interest in exposing the inner workings of his kinetic sculptures, to reveal the integrity of the machine. This is also a key to understanding the artist’s intent. In a time where slick techno products assimilate somewhat seamlessly into our daily lives, we are becoming increasingly detached from the hidden mechanics and technological output pervading unseen into our environment. Through his art Manning reacts by choosing to unveil the technology and its parts, to cleverly expose the language of the machine which results in a direct exchange between the viewer and the work.
For the exhibition Colourshift Manning has created three new works comprised from ubiquitous materials ranging from LCD televisions, mirrors, video cameras, electric lights, record turntables and horns. Conceptually, these works transverse ideas of technology and language to discourses about the way we represent and manifest identity through the seemingly endless adaptations of communication modes.
Through reality television shows, virtual gaming to social media and beyond the fascination with self is permeating deeply into every aspect of our existence. Technology as subject and how it plays a part in how we craft identity is playfully explored by Manning in the installations, Bricks and blocks, 2016, and Point cloud opera, 2016. Comprised of various devices of communication technology these multimedia assemblages are observers of themselves. The strategically placed video cameras in Bricks and blocks, feeds in real time, footage of the hovering coloured tubes of light to the television monitor. The mirror located at the base of this work intensifies the play of optics, coalescing in a spectacular fusion of electronic and visual exchanges.
The hidden digital communication that permeates our environment from WiFi, code systems to machine language conceptually underlies the audio assemblage Li-Fi, 2016, which turns modulating light from LED’s into audio signals played through the assembled sculpture. Li-Fi ‘s sound is generated by candle flicker LEDs that rotate on top of record player turntables. The visible variation of light is turned into electrical signals that are amplified and sent to an array of horn speakers typically used for broadcasting information through public address, to elucidate in audio the language of the machine.
Melbourne-based Kit Webster’s multidisciplinary practice transverses sculpture, installation and creative technologies that see him working in cross-collaborative projects from performance based festivals, exhibitions and architectural projects. Working at the forefront of digital and spatial experimentation, Webster has become known internationally for his hybrid sculptural forms and immersive environments that enthral through the vivid play of audio and visual sequences.
Webster’s artistic practice grew from an understanding of sound and technology. His early interests were in creating intricate and detailed sound compositions inspired in part by electronic music combined with an ambition to push the capacity of a computer and its sound levels. Experimental sound led Webster to a Fine Art Degree in video and sound art from RMIT University, Melbourne that introduced him to the potential of video art. Viewing light as another element of the senses to enliven and activate a three-dimensional space, Webster began to incorporate elaborate light projections of colour and images that shifted in sequence to his sound arrangements.
Often developing concepts for his art ahead of the technologies capabilities, his work is framed by the ever-increasing potential of new technologies that push the boundaries of new media. By combining technology with art and design, both inside and outside the computer, Webster presents experimental concepts that look to define a new audiovisual aesthetic through works conceived from advanced light and computer software technologies.
Webster’s sculptural and spatial performances are generated through a 3d projection-mapping program. The crafted output enlivens spaces through a synthesis of hypnotic sound and kaleidoscopic colour and patterns that stream upon the surface of sculptural and architectural forms. Webster describes these works as ‘synesthetic videovisual sculptures’ as presented in the ongoing series Enigmatica, an installation comprised of a series of suspended concentric frames brought to life by an illuminated sequence of morphing colour and geometric animations. These images shift back and forth across the suspended forms in a complex choreographed sequence that is synchronised to a reverberating pulsing soundscape. The intensity generated through the play of optical and audio sensations heightens the viewer’s engagement to induce a hypnotic state of mind.
Conceptually his work is connected to ideas of physics and conceived in response to the interface of technology and environment. Bringing into question both the identified and unknown aspects of our world through his work, Webster comments upon the intangible language of technology such as radio waves and signals that form part of the hidden fabric that surrounds us. Webster sees his artistic practice as a way of articulating in physical forms the ‘intricacies and dimensionality of indeterminate shifting states’ of technologies output.
Another aspect informing Webster’s practice is the increasing potential of virtual reality. Advancements in technology are opening up the possibilities of virtual environments, expanding the definition of perception and consciousness in a digital experience. The interface of human and digital involvement is moving closer to a state where ‘consciousness will be uploaded to digital format’ comments Webster. These advancements are closing the gap between physical and digital worlds, as technology moves to a point where other senses will be incorporated to offer alternative levels of human awareness.
Drawing upon ideas of perception and consciousness and the parallels between environments both digital and physical are explored in the kinetic work Phaseshift, 2016. Created specifically for exhibition at Loop Alternative Space Phaseshift is a suspended two-metre mechanical pendulum attracted by an electromagnet to engage a swinging motion. The pendulum’s movement is echoed by the ticking sound of the internal relay and synchronous projection that spills upon the surface of the pendulum and surrounding wall. Bringing together ideas of time and space, the constant rhythmic pulse of form and projection collide and interact inciting a hypnotic meditative experience for the viewer.
Written by Penny Teale
Senior Curator, McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery