‘Cumulus’ by Ruth McDermott + Ben Baxter
Ruth McDermott and Ben Baxter are two artists who have found the medium of light provides an extraordinary palette from which their ideas can grow. Both have a background in industrial design and have been collaborating on public art projects for the last three years. Ruth + Ben are the co-creators of ‘Cumulus’ a 3 metre x 2 metre perforated aluminium LED cloud installation programmed to change colour and effect throughout a cycle that includes a “storm” sequence. Here exclusively for illumni they describe their experiences exhibiting at Vivid Sydney 2012.
How exciting has Vivid been for you this year?
It was a privilege to be involved. The event has evolved over the past few years to become the premier event for creativity in Sydney. The fact that Sydney walks and talks lighting for a couple of weeks is great for us light artists. We love that the event is inclusive and has something for all ages and interests.
It was great seeing some of the great work from artists who have also evolved over the years. – some of whom we have got to know. It lets us all see where the light art and technology is developing. As far as the actual light sculptures, we enjoyed the mobile artworks – they brought something new and fresh. The projections on the MCA were also a knockout.
Did the weather live up to expectations as far as your installation was concerned?
In the first week we did not get the rain and storms we expected – perhaps the Cumulus kept them away! But in the second week we did have a stormy time which tested our rigging somewhat. We loved the effect of the rain on the cumulus – it gave it a glittering texture which was something unexpected.
All attention at Vivid seems to be on expressions of efficiency/low energy lighting. Do you think the lighting industry has been inspired by the advent of global warming and focused R&D on this area, or would it have happened anyway?
This is a particular issue with us. We feel that for too long lighting designers (both in light fittings and light art) have relied on incandescent light sources. Let’s face it almost anyone can do great things with incandescent lamps – they have great colour rendering and colour temperature, a spectrum that is pleasing to the eye, they flatter the skin. The bulb looks great on its own without any diffusion or mediation.
Whatever people think, the market is moving towards lighting that offers efficiency and longevity. We need to work more with these light sources understanding their strengths and meeting their challenges.
How have LED affected your creativity?
We made a decision to focus solely on LEDs about a few years ago. LEDs have some great advantages and we love the creative licence the technology gives us. But we also need to respond to the challenges and feel we have become more knowledgeable on how to use LEDs as we have progressed. While we know we still have a great deal to learn, this year was a bit of a breakthrough for us with Cumulus. We used LMX programmable LEDs from Color Kinetics. As well as being able to exploit the full colour range we also came up with a design that really embedded the LEDs within the form. We felt this is the first time we have really integrated form and lighting.
What influence has natural environment had on your work?
In terms of the concepts behind our work the natural environment has a great deal of influence. However, it is not just the subject matter but the way we realise the work. For example, this is our third VIVID and all our installations have a moody feeling – we explore shadows as well as light. Without shadows, light itself lacks depth and can become garish.
We find sites that are a bit off the beaten track and have texture and a bit of atmosphere. Possibly with some interesting walls and some natural vegetation. We are careful to place our installations so they also respond to the actual size and feeling of the site. We find it a real challenge to use a high tech light source such as LEDs (which of itself does not have real character and personality – and even any real form) and work to create something quite romantic that also had a connection with nature.
Ruth McDermott is a Sydney based designer and artist with an industrial design background. After working in many product design areas she now creates site specific works for a variety of clients. She is also completing a doctorate in design on LED light sources.
Her work is represented in the permanent collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and she has been involved in exhibitions and museum shows in Oslo, Seattle, Verona Furniture Fair, Tokyo Designers Block 2002, Milan Salone Satellite and throughout Australia. She has received design awards and has been the recipient of several Australia Council for the Arts Grants.
Ben Baxter is a Sydney based design practitioner working and works in the Industrial design and Architectural industry. He has a degree in Fine arts from the College of Fine Arts, Sydney and Masters of Industrial Design from the University of New South Wales. Ben is also an accomplished teacher and lecturer having taught furniture, product and graphic design in London and Sydney. He has also curated a number of exhibitions of student designers at Delmar Gallery. He has worked on custom lighting projects for Ruth McDermott Design and currently teaches Design at Raffles Design College. He is currently completing a Masters of Illumination at the University of Sydney.