Eternall Light and a Spotless Mirror
Light can be many things to many people; it can be a symbol of enlightenment, it can provide a source of energy to help plants grow, and, clearly without it we cannot see.
The 14th century painter Jan Van Eyck was arguably one of the first master light designers; he used light in his works to produce an impressive rendering of Catholic mysticism. In his Ghent Altarpiece (also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) painting, which is currently being restored at MSK Ghent, Van Eyck manages to harness the presence of light from outside of the frame of his painting to cast a shadow over the figures within it. This intriguing presence of the repercussion of light from a seemingly invisible external source has become the starting point for Jordan Söderberg Mills’ latest site-specific installation, Lucis Aeternae at Design Museum Gent.
Söderberg Mills’ Lucis Aeternae was inspired by Van Eyck’s masterful use of light. The work encourages a viewer to think more about the unseen omnipresent source of life, but also makes an audience contemplate what happens outside of the frame of the images they project. Both ask questions of a viewer’s acceptance of a light source they cannot see directly but can only experience in its refractions. On the one hand, Van Eyck used light as a way to build upon the 14th century Christian society’s use of beautiful stained glass windows and ornate objects as an indication of God’s majesty and leadership. Whilst, on the other, Söderberg Mills uses light in a way to reflect back and challenge the viewer’s devotion to their hand-held stained-glass digital devices.
Lucis Aeternae has allowed Söderberg Mills to frame his work around an idea rather than from an experience. A research-led process, which has made this specific project different from his previous light explorations. The project is driven from a desire to explore the meaning of light rather than focusing on what light can do. In other words, it becomes more about the effect and the refraction than it does about the source.
Söderberg Mills’ practice is about exploring the material qualities of light, scientifically understanding its behaviours and metaphorically uncovering its use in constructing society. With an education in both art history and architecture, plus the benefit of being a trained blacksmith, his studies have provided him with an insight into design, art and perception, which have culminated in a fascination of the physical nature of light. Söderberg Mills’ works use light within their installations to create optical effects and challenge the mechanics of vision. Testing a viewer’s understanding of the way they see, fascinates him “as once the piece is completed it becomes autonomous and the audience is free to independently interpret its existence in the space”.
In physics observing the reactions of a system to an input is important to developing an understanding of the forces involved, this is also true for Söderberg Mills’ practice. The abundance of colours that are created as a result of his use of materials is just as important a reaction as the feedback he gets from an audience. Both aid in the development of his works and how they can be perceived.
Light from an external source does not go unnoticed; its power is seen in the art that is created from it. Söderberg Mills explains the evidence of his thinking (the source) “often ends up in the physical object” (the outcome) refracting into an explosion of coloured light beams, interpretations, and personal experiences. The science of light supplies a plethora of coloured metaphors within Söderberg Mills’ work that results in a new perceptual experience for its audience.
By Emma Singleton