Sebastian Kite uses light and colour to alter perception
April 5, 2016

The artist collaborates on ‘Hue’ to create projections that respond to the ambience of a space. Featured in our partnership with WeTransfer

In the digital age, physical space has collapsed into virtual platforms, flattened into screens that irreversibly transform our perception of time and space. This shift in how we experience the world around us is addressed head-on by artist and architect Sebastian Kite, whose large-scale installations offer an alternate reading of physical space. Built structures, projection, light and sound are often used by Kite, emphasising the continued importance of tactile engagement with our environment, even as the digital age reshuffles that immediacy.

Bridging the gap between art, science, architecture and music, these installations also break down the divide between audience and performer. ‘Hue’, Kite’s latest work, sees him collaborate with a composer and two choreographers to investigate the relationship between live performance and interactive, generative elements triggered and enacted by the audience themselves. Light and colour, and sound and movement, respond to the ambience of the room, opening an ongoing enquiry into the possible outcomes of the piece within a range of locations. This site-specificity is key to Kite’s practice, exhibiting projects everywhere from prisons to railway stations to underground bunkers. Collaboration too is central to his creative approach, working within the realms of design, dance, fashion and more in the pursuit of new readings of the spaces that we each encounter, inhabit and explore.


POSTmatter: You have a background in architecture, but choose to take a less straightforward approach to the experience of the built environment in your installations. What influenced this direction for you?

Sebastian Kite: My architectural background is paramount to my creative practice. My first explorations into making installations began whilst conducting my MA in Architecture. Thematically open, I explored notions of time and film as tools to analyse spaces and to design temporal architectural interventions. This inspired my fascination with the site-specific, creating large scale work in response to off-sites as opposed to the white cube environment. My approach towards making architecture-as-art correlates with the off-site as the realm for me to express my work.

Over time, a number of strategies have come to lead my practice: a focus on site-specificity, an engagement with the human body in space and a view towards architectural interventions as a vessel for experience and interpretation. My work is concerned with making spaces rather than objects, to investigate phenomenological consciousness, proprioception, navigation and memory of space. My first studio Kite & Laslett (2010-13) was more technically orientated whereas now my own practice is more performative and openly collaborative, appropriating my architectural skill-set to work with other practices such as dance, music, and fashion.


My work is concerned with making spaces rather than objects, to investigate phenomenological consciousness, proprioception, navigation and memory of space.


PM: You often use light in your work as a tool for altering perception. What appeals to you about it in this context?

SK: Light is a concurrent medium in my work; it allows us to read and measure space, alter our perception, to reveal the uncanny and even evoke memory. I treat light as a material rather than an immaterial substance. In my recent collaborative installation ‘Hue’, I use multiple layered projection as a way to collapse perspective in room, but mainly to alter our perception of time. The projections are caught on layers of fabric, blending their colour and obscuring the perimeter of the space outside. Coloured light affects our perception of time physically and emotively, to either over or underestimate time. La Monte Young’s ‘Dream House’ comes to mind, a surreal transitory space where one’s sense of time completely folds. Light is a powerful tool to affect experience. My work attempts to engage our primordial connection with light to create transcendental spaces. The viewer or audience is key to make the haptic connection with my work.


PM: 'Hue' also sees you collaborate with dancers and a musician. How did you find the experience of introducing choreographed movement into the space that you had constructed?

SK: My installations to date have often focused on audience participation, but working with choreographed movement became a whole new challenge, essentially discovering a new language. It was a great pleasure to work co-choreographers Lisanne Goodhue, Élise Bergeron, and composer Simon Goff. Firstly, I took the time to observe and learn their dance practices, notions based on kinaesthetic empathy, movement and response to audience behaviour.

In the making of the project I had to deconstruct my own practice and work in a new way. Unlike before where I would usually design and build a sculpture or installation in abstract, Hue is a generative and malleable environment, an installation constructed of a complex interplay of live and physical elements set within a space. My role in Hue is as its architect, to create an environment that facilitates the requirements and qualities of the movement, live spatialised sound, light, audience and site, but it is also a designed space that I can encourage our practices to actively progress. I too am a performer in the work, controlling the light and colour interactions between multiple projectors, working with the choreography and sound and in response to the ambience of the room. In Hue, we shift our practices collectively and individually, transitioning the space between installation and performance. Each iteration of the installation is different, suited to its context. The piece is designed to not be a finite article, with scope for further investigation.


I treat light as a material rather than an immaterial substance.


PM: Why did you focus on colour as a central element in the piece?

SK: The Hue project began as a conversation about how visual art, dance and music can combine to create a performative installation and whereby each medium shares authorship of the work. Through discussion we drew parallels from our respective practices and found the subject of colour as a bridge between the three media; for example, how colour is perceived and appropriated in art and architecture, colour vibrations in dance, colour frequencies in music, as well as physical and emotive associations.

In Hue colour is a compositional tool, establishing the framework of the installation. The colours blue, red, yellow, orange, green and violet act as markers in a non-set durational score, allowing for catalytic interaction between performer and audience members. White is neutral and acts a reset point. Through a developed common vocabulary, the work focuses on the process of interaction between the three media to create specific ambiences.


PM: How do you think that our awareness and understanding of space has changed in the digital age?

SK: The digital age has caused an irreversible shift in our reading of space; physical space is now also digital space; collapsable, flattened into virtual platforms, immediate, teleportary, overwhelming, mind numbing. Both positively and negatively, we are now in an unprecedented era where the digital realm is so fused with our environment and consciousness, it affects nearly every aspect of our lives. Spatially, we are able to navigate space virtually without a primordial sense of orientation. The value of space or place becomes increasingly more debated, observed and monitored.

Creatively, the digital age provides new impetus and material in which to construct alternative spaces, wholly detached or connected to the real world. It is important that, whilst we are aware and continue to exploit the digital age, to be conscious not to dislocate and estrange our tactile engagement with the environment we inhabit. Our addiction to data is explosively fast, forming new reading of space we cannot yet grasp.


Physical space is now also digital space; collapsable, flattened into virtual platforms, immediate, teleportary, overwhelming, mind numbing.


PM:  What would a dream future collaboration be for you?

SK: A dream future collaboration for me would be to combine my installation work with an opera production, to create an immersive installation or expansive set that breaks away from the traditional and didactic audience-performer relationship. I recently witnessed the ENO’s adaptation of Philip Glass’ operatic work ‘Akhnaten’ and was mesmerised. Opera is a synthesis of the arts, occupying territory between narrative and abstraction. I have always had an interest in set design for it crosses with architecture, installation, performance and dreamscapes. My work so far is predominantly abstract but I would relish the challenge to work with narrative.


My practice is becoming increasingly more diverse and reinventing itself, beyond making installations and venturing into set design for fashion, music and film. Collaboration is my material, the medium through which I create my work. Bringing together creative practices from different fields excites and challenges me to create innovative projects.


This interview is published in partnership with WeTransfer, as part of our series exploring the creatives who push the boundaries between digital and physical space in new and surprising ways. See Sebastian Kite's work custom moving image piece, made with Jotta Studio, on WeTransfer here.

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