24 Apr Manipulating Light with Chris Wood

Using light as her medium, Chris Wood creates dichroic glass forms that interact with their environment. We love the way her art creates a positive experience for the viewer through the fun color her pieces generate. Inspired by her installations, we spoke with Chris to learn more about the concept and process behind her pieces.

What is the concept behind your work?
The concept is purely about the dynamic properties of light and how people engage with it.

My drive is to draw people in to inquire how it happens, and to open up a dialog of conversation around light. Bringing attention to the magic in the everyday, and the healing properties that light has the potential to bring. This is more prominent with the work I have done in hospitals as it offers a positive diversion. It’s no mystery that lack of sunlight can cause depression, but there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that light and colour boost beneficial hormones. Hence the phrase ‘Ooh that’s just what the doctor ordered!’ when we finally get a sunny day!

An artwork that explores both colour and light can’t fail to have a positive impact on people’s experience of the space. My works make people smile and smiling makes you feel better. Delight and surprise are extremely powerful and positive emotions, both of which are the driving force behind my work.

There are other more personal influences underpinning the work, but it’s just simply getting people to look at light, because its constantly there and gorgeous.

You use light as your medium while dichroic glass is its guide. What are you looking to translate through your arrangements of material?
I work with a variety of optical elements such as mirrors lenses water, smoke steam haze and anything else I can lay my hands on that enables me to manipulate light.  I work with dichroic predominantly because it so perfectly describes the magic of light. This need to happen within a very ordered framework, which is why I work with pattern.

Pattern is essential within my practice. It took me a long time to understand how to work with dichroic because of its visual complexity. The use of pattern in Islamic art has been a major influence on my work.

Tell us more about this material you use in your work!
Light is my medium and I use other materials to manifest it. I work with a material called dichroic – meaning ‘two colour’. Dichroic is an optical coating (originally developed by NASA in the 1960s) that selectively reflects certain wavelengths of light and allows the remaining wavelengths to transmit through.The material shifts from being reflective like a golden mirror to vibrantly coloured or almost transparent, depending upon the viewpoint and angle of light. It is a material that eloquently expresses the magical properties of light. It’s all about the physics of the medium – there’s no colour in the material at all.

How did your background as a furniture designer impact your journey to creating dichroic wall panels?
I discovered dichroic when I was at the Royal College of Art and I was absolutely fascinated by it. But every time I tried to use it – it just looked too busy! I played with it for over 10 years before I worked out how to use it successfully. I’d moved to the fens in East Anglia and was working with reflective materials and the strong lines of the landscape in the area – it was this that made me realise how I could use dichroic glass effectively. If you’re interested in light, glass is the material you naturally gravitate towards and dichroic glass is just the perfect material.

My training as a furniture designer gave the freedom to play and discover my visual vocabulary. It taught me about different materials different processes working with other skill sets communicating with others to help me bring my work to a physical reality, this has been the most important aspect of my art school education.

Tell us a little more about your design process! How do you decide on arrangements?
I have two separate processes working to briefs set by others and then my own visual research, the outcomes of which are exhibited in galleries and public spaces. Working in these two areas inform each other and are integral to my development as an artist.

Working to a brief is always a challenge, but I love the design process. I enjoy working to a tight brief and it’s so rewarding when you manage to put ‘you’ into something that can often be quite restrictive. I generate ideas through play and taming that chaos to fit the brief.

Where is your favorite place for your pieces to be installed? Outdoors, indoors, residences, public spaces? How are they designed to interact with the surrounding environment?
There are many more physical challenges in producing a work for exterior spaces. The design has to be robust enough to tolerate all the different weathers etc. It’s exciting though because you’re working with natural light which is much more dynamic and endlessly varied throughout the year. The work will do different things depending on the weather conditions, time of day etc. It’s really special when you’re in a space – like with window installation ‘Seeds’ at the Rosie Maternity Hospital. You can be in that space and all of a sudden, the sun comes out from behind a cloud and it’s like a firework show around you. And you feel quite privileged because you were there at that moment to experience it.

My favourite locations are where the works can interact with natural light.

As each angle of light on dichroic creates a unique effect, do you find that artificial lighting impacts the coloration of your panels differently than natural light?
Yes because artificial light is more consistent whereas natural light is very changeable, however, often the panels are in locations where there is both artificial and natural light present, in this instance the natural light generally dominates. I prefer natural light to work with because of its transience, and varying quality. And its ability to bring the outside in.

What’s next?
I am currently working on projects in Washington, Taiwan, Trondheim and Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is currently in the process of being installed. My main goal is to create more installations, such as ‘Light Rain’ for the Islamic Arts Festival in Sharjah and ‘Light Refreshments in the Boardroom’ (see website).  I love the freedom of making installations for art museum contexts and the fact that they can be viewed and enjoyed by the general public

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