Exploring Light with Squidsoup

This year, Battersea Power Station’s annual Light Festival returns to brighten up riverside London. The annual event promises to transform the banks of the Thames into an otherworldly destination with seven luminous installations from British and international artists. Many of the radiant works offer more than just a visual experience, enhanced with exciting soundscapes and interactive elements that respond to visitors’ movements. For example, a gigantic ball of LED pixels – visible from afar – hovers above the entrance of the cultural centre. This is Singularity, a large-scale luminous work by Aesthetica Art Prize finalists Squidsoup. We sat down with Anthony Rowe, founder of the initiative, to talk about the display at Battersea.

A: Squidsoup is an open group of collaborators working with light, sound and technology. Could you tell us about the different people involved, and how the collaboration got started?
AR: Originally we started in 1997 – making CD ROMs – before moving into projected installations, so Squidsoup has been through a few transformations over the years. We gradually became aware of the downside of using screens only. Its illusions of an unreachable and detached world on the other side of its impregnable surface is a limitation when trying to immerse viewers in an experience. After settling on a massive walkthrough version of an LED cube as our next endeavour, a new team gradually formed, with each member specialised in subjects that were relevant to the piece. That has since expanded to include a production and installation team and other technicians who work with us. The core of Squidsoup is currently ten people plus several other collaborators.

A: What are the main principles you are working with? How do you come up with new ideas?
AR: We have always been drawn to working with light: due to its (lack of) materiality and ephemeral quality. You can see it but you can’t touch it. It’s the foundation of all life. It’s just magical. Additionally, much of our work stems from trying to avoid using screens – they are a physical boundary representing a space you cannot go to or touch. Since we want to create immersive experiences, the first step in developing a new work is avoiding screens. Boundaries, borders and inaccessible spaces are not things we want to feature. We could also translate our projects as abstracted exploded screens, where each pixel has been blasted into a 3D physical space. However, the experience is very different to a 2D presence.

A: Some of your touring works such as Submergence have been exhibited over 100 times on six continents. What would you like audiences to take away from Squidsoup projects?
AR: The main hope is that people become, for a while, transfixed, surprised, engaged and beguiled. Our work is generally deliberately abstract, reaching for hidden memories, sensations and feelings. Viewers tell us all sorts of amazing stories about what the project means for them, some of which are also in our minds as creators, but often their interpretation is completely different and can be quite personal. So as long as it makes people feel something; have some kind of emotional response; and see things in a slightly different light, then the work has done its job.

A: Singularity is a monolithic suspended sphere of abstract and dynamic light and movement, currently on display at Battersea Power Station at the annual Light Festival. What was the inspiration behind the artwork?
AR: It is a riff on the notion of the Singularity. In mathematics and physics singularity is a point of extreme variability where normal rules no longer apply; change, transition, unpredictability and the unknown become the norm; our models of behaviour break down and our expectations are confounded. Singularities exist at the limits of our understanding – from distant and abstract phenomena such as the beginning of the universe and black holes through to the more familiar and everyday, for example, weather patterns. Squidsoup’s Singularity represents a hypothetical technological singularity, an imagined point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilisation.

A: How would you describe your relationship with space? When working on a new commission, do you consider the place in which it is going to be exhibited, or are most of your works malleable?
AR: I think there are both cases. We have a collection of works that we can tour and display pretty much as they are, but we often alter them to fit certain locations. Also, we create some site-specific installations. In all cases though, the work is in dialogue with its surroundings: the physical space, the people that come to visit, the flow of those visitors, why they are there, how they got there… and the atmosphere of the location itself all have an effect on audience’s overall experience.

A: What projects are you working on right now? When and where can the public see your artworks next?
AR: We still have a few winter light exhibitions running for example in Aberdeen, Vienna and at Morecambe Bay. But we are also looking forward to a calmer period of focusing and refining some new designs and content using systems we’ve developed. Recently we came up with an arrangement of small wi-fi enabled units that each contain LEDs and speakers. These can be choreographed, and they work together to create a massive coordinated audiovisual experience. Besides this, a couple of years ago we built a prototype of a moving work called Phase Shifter. We recently showed it at a solo exhibition in Bristol, UK. This experimental approach has a lot of potential in it which we are planning to explore this year.

Light Festival 2024 | Battersea Power Station, London | Until 25 February



Image credits:

1. Light Festival at Battersea Power Station 2024 – Singularity installation – credit Backdrop Productions

2. Light Festival at Battersea Power Station 2024 – credit Backdrop Productions

3. Light Festival at Battersea Power Station 2024 – Butterfly Effect installation – credit Backdrop Productions

4. Light Festival at Battersea Power Station 2024 – Cloudy Lanterns installation – credit Backdrop Productions