Interview with Mads Christensen, Lightwaves 2015, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester

An ideal attraction to animate those long winter nights, Lightwaves 2015 is a free digital light festival taking place at Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, until 27 December. Organised by Quays Culture, the two week event welcomes a dynamic showcase of world-class installations including three monumental digital artworks designed to engage and challenge the public in new and exciting ways. Amongst these pieces is the freshly commissioned Cathedral of Mirrors by Danish artist Mads Christensen. Created specially for Lightwaves 2015, the installation is comprised of 12 motion-sensitive mirrored columns and emits an undulating glow that washes over the viewer in unpredictable ways. We speak to Christensen about his desire to explore how patterns of light affect us emotionally, and how he uses custom circuitry, programming and LEDs to create his art.

A: Can you tell us about Cathedral of Mirrors?  What was the inspiration behind it and what effect do you hope it will have on the viewer?
MC: Cathedral of Mirrors envelops viewers in a three-dimensional field of light where they themselves become part of the expression; part viewer, part artist. The word “mirror” takes several meanings in this context: from the very literal reflections off of the bevelled surfaces of the structure to the more abstract mirroring that occurs when viewers’ movements are picked up by sensors and reflected in the sequences of light that are generated algorithmically in real-time. On a more subtle level, the software algorithms used to generate the light sequences employ feedback and delay, causing a time-mirroring effect; the visual equivalent of an echo. The art reflects the viewer and the viewer reflects the art. This poses the question: which is the mirror image?

A: Can you describe your work process from concept to reality?
MC: Inspiration can strike anytime, anywhere, and often does when I am not prepared or being deliberate about it. When an idea comes to mind I immediately jot it down. One sentence, a quick sketch, or just a single word. Several weeks or months later, I go back and review my ever growing list of ideas. If any given idea still seems interesting I proceed to create a prototype or proof-of-concept. My art is about sharing an experience, a sense of wonder. Many of my works rely on some visual stimulation or artefact that is difficult to predict without some form of experiment. In that sense the ideation is very non-deliberate and experimental while the validation and subsequent execution of an idea, requires a lot of attention, skill and deliberation.

A: What is it about combining software, light and sculpture that excites you, and why do you think it works?
MC: Light and software are strange and beautiful things; they are both weightless, and they both possess incredible potential. Opposite to this is the physical manifestation, the canvas if you will, which is in comparison is static and dense, filled with hardware, cables and electronics. I have always been intrigued by this juxtaposition. The malleability, the shape-shifting properties, the constant surprise of light and software continue to amaze me and are definitely the driving factors behind my work.

A: What does it mean to you to be unveiling Cathedral of Mirrors at the Lightwaves digital art festival?
MC: I am very excited to have been offered the opportunity by Quays Culture to show Cathedral of Mirrors in a popular public location and experience how viewers react to it. Showing art and particularly interactive installations outside of the gallery’s white walls helps to remove the perceptions we may have about how art should be experienced.

A: What are your future goals and ambitions as an artist?
MC: I continue to explore new technology vs. art and I am currently moving toward creating more algorithmically driven works where seemingly subtle or trivial variations, such as changes in hue or position of objects, are repeated, but slightly altered at each iteration, then layered on top of each other hundreds or even thousands of times to form extremely complex and often surprisingly beautiful patterns. That way the very precise and well-defined behaviour a software algorithm suddenly becomes more natural and approachable.

Lightwaves 2015 digital light festival, until 27 December, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester.

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1. Mads Christensen, Cathedral of Mirrors, 2015, outside The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. Courtesy of the artist and Lightwaves 2015.