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Flower of the Universe
Issue 58 December / January 2011
Dutch artist Titia Ex has more than 20 year’s experience working with light in its various forms, but it is LEDs that have helped one of her latest project’s astronomical growth in popularity
“In my work I am intrigued by the tension that light creates in relation to its audience and its environment,” says Dutch artist Titia Ex. “Light can convey both the dynamics of a space and its tranquillity. It is a quest to find the rhythm - people in motion, contemplative or en route somewhere else - and how to then give this rhythm a poetic echo.”
As a rule, Titia Ex produces site-specific pieces and in the case of Flower of the Universe, one of her more recent works, it was the 17th century Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam that provided the inspiration. Initially positioned over an empty pond in the Gardens, the piece floated like a mysterious, alien addition to the dark winter afternoons. The flower was designed to emphasise the poetry of the site by intertwining colour and movement. It comprises a central heart modelled on a human nerve cell and a circular fan of rod-line petals – each lined with LED strips. Left undisturbed, the Flower swirls in a vibrant pre-programmed display of colours, but when one of it’s several eyes detects movement, the Flower adapts its pattern - incorporating any new colours it sees around it.
Built with technical support from Philips, the 35 petal-fronds and the 18 tendril-like nerve cell offshoots together comprise a total of 123 clusters of LED, which can change colour independently. Seven sensors on the periphery convert external stimuli to one of the seven ‘petals’, each composed of five stems. The off-shoots of the nerve cell take on the same, or perhaps the complementary, colour of the closest petal.
“The best quality of using LED is their flexibility: the fact they are easy to build with, the way they change colour and last but not least their great radiance and impact. Using RGB LEDs enabled me to make any colour,” says Titia Ex. “I couldn’t have made this piece without the use of LEDs.”
Such is the popularity of Flower of the Universe that this year it has travelled across Europe – appearing at Frankfurt Luminale and in the new Blob building in Eindhoven, Germany. In each instance, the other-worldly appearance and interactive element helps it fit perfectly wherever it lands.
So far however, the flower remains a benevolent visitor with no permanent home. “There has not yet been time for a permanent installation,” Titia explains. “The work is perfect for semi public spaces like a city hall or a hospital; it’s colourful and connects people. I am open to suggestions.”
More about Titia Ex:
Artist Titia Ex works with light, movement and spatial perception. She always focuses on the relationship that a work enters into with its surroundings. The history of a site or the current use of the space plays a significant part in the interpretation of her works. In the case of Flower from the Universe, which stood in Amsterdams Botanical Gardens during the winter months in early 2010, this relationship is explicitly interactive: the colour changes and movement create a connection and an interchange with the viewer.
When/where was it first shown?
"The inspiration to create the Flower came from the first location: the 17th century Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam during wintertime. The time of the year with dark afternoons, a silent garden with magnificent silhouettes of the trees, an empty pond, a perfect background for the interactive light installation to shine and blink as a mysterious flower of the universe. The Amsterdam public was able to enjoy the dynamic interplay and experience a flourishing winter garden for 3 months.
"After the success in Amsterdam, invitations to show the Flower came from various places. The city of light in the Netherlands, Eindhoven, presented the Flower during the opening weeks of the Blob, an architecturally eye-catching building in the centre opposite to the Design Academy. The Flower was shown during the Frankfurt Luminale in the Senckenberger Naturmuseum in Germany. An invitation came from the international media lab at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam during the Cinekid festival. So there has not yet been time for a permanent installation. The work is perfect for semi public spaces like a city hall or a hospital; it’s colourful and connects people. I am open to suggestions."
Are there particular themes you like to explore with your artwork?
“In my work I am intrigued by the tension that light creates in relation to its audience and its environment. Light can convey both the dynamics of a space and its tranquillity. It is a quest to find the rhythm - people in motion, contemplative or en route somewhere else - and how to then give this rhythm a poetic echo.
"Sometimes daylight alone is my source of light. In The Poet is a Cow, a temporary work I used coloured foil on a large window to introduce the tension of light in the building, which was so beautifully constructed from glass and white materials. The building thus became the canvas and the daylight was used as a brush. Its intervention was languid. People became aware of the space around them, their environment and felt more unified."
What appeals to you about working with light?
"I like the complexity of working with light. When I first started to work with light, I made films. Small statements, comments. Sometimes just photographically in combination with large mobiles. For me this is all about light, with the empty space. I can use light to give form to the dynamics of a space, to its stillness too. It is simultaneously present and absent. Light is movement, transparency and time, all in one.
You have used LEDs in a number of your artworks – what is the attraction of LEDs for you?
"The best quality of using LED is their flexibility: the fact they are easy to build with, the way they change colour and last but not least their great radiance and impact. Working with light is working with an intangible medium. You have to find the support for it, which means the result is always different and the medium is continually under development. Philips lighting supported me to develop this piece. Ten years ago I could not have made, technically, an interactive light installation like Flower from the Universe. On the other hand LED can’t just build everything. Like for my art piece The Halo, for the Utrecht Church, I used neon. After several trials I came to the conclusion that the quality I wanted, could only be made with neon lines and not (yet) with LED. In the future I want to build more light objects using LED. At the moment I am in contact with the Transmediale in Berlin, Estuaire in France and Istanbul, where I was recently for a Pecha Kucha. Perhaps places for the Flower from the Universe next year?"