Radiant Environments

Radiant Environments

Is light really limited to the ocular or can it be abstracted to gain shape and volume? That’s the gamble behind NONOTAK, a Paris-based art collective comprising illustrator Noemi Schipfer and musician / architect Takami Nakamoto. Using both conventional and advanced technologies, the pair sculpt light that is then projected, reflected or diffused in complex geometrical patterns.

In Baseline, one of four new site-specific installations NONOTAK is presenting at innovative digital art space Artechouse, a horizontal array of light fixtures lines the main gallery’s floor, pulsating on and off rhythmically to the tune of ambient swooshes, echoes and clicks. The surrounding walls are intermittently lit or plunged into darkness as a projection moves from side to side or up and down.

A smaller room plays host to Ocean, its title a nod to the undulating waves created by the reflection of a myriad computer-controlled LED lights on a shutter-like wooden slat structure. Light becomes almost liquid in this more contemplative piece. Coma, a kinetic installation, usurps the usual role of moving heads. Instead of beaming light onto a stage, the unlit machines obey a choreography not unlike a military march of black-clad soldiers. They sit on 16 slim white rectangular pedestals that conceal bright strobes that project onto the wall.

In an almost magical tour de force, light appears seemingly out of thin air in Zero Point One, where lasers are beamed through 1mm fiberoptic cables like water poured through a tube. A reflective phosphor coding turns the blue laser light white. Various cables arranged on a grid of perpendicular axes inside a black box in a large dark room are turned off and on instantaneously with great precision. “It’s a perfect medium for us because it allows us to have a super long and fine light without diffusing it. When you turn it off, it really disappears,” Schipfer explains. The game of absence and presence blurs the line between real and virtual.

“Light is our raw material, in all its different forms. We’ve experimented a lot, from LEDs to projections or fibres with lasers, and both indirect and direct lighting,” says Schipfer, who began collaborating with Nakamoto in 2011, when they created a mural commissioned by architects Bigoni-Mortemard for the lobby of a social housing project. Since 2013, NONOTAK have focused on audiovisual projects. They build on a long line of artists who have used light in radical ways, from Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubes that challenged traditional notions of what materials constitute artwork to the volume it gains in James Turrell’s immersive environments, Robert Irwin’s reflections on how we perceive what we see or Yayoi Kusama’s seemingly boundlessly repetitive Infinity Rooms.

Naked Eyes, Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, Until 30 June. For more information, click here.

Olivia Hampton

1. Narcisse, v. 2. Courtesy of NONOTAK.