We chat to the man behind Hull’s latest feat of robotics, light and sound.
If you’ve wandered around Hull’s Old Town recently, you may have caught a glimpse of Hull 2017’s final major art commission of the year. Inhabiting spaces at Beverley Gate, Trinity Square, Museum Gardens and Wilberforce House, Where Do We Go From Here? will take us on a new journey through some of the city’s public spaces, whilst encouraging us all to take part in a timely conversation about art, culture and society.
Created by the award-winning Jason Bruges Studio, Where Do We Go From Here? will open to the public from 5pm on Fri 1 Dec. But if you’re still wondering what it’s all about, we spoke to the man behind the mystery to find out more…
Q: HOW DID YOU START OUT IN THIS FIELD OF WORK?
A: I grew up in a house where art and technology had equal billing, with my mother working as an artist and my father as a computer programmer, so I guess that has a lot to do with where I am now!
After training and working as an architect, I went on to work for Foster + Partners in London and Hong Kong, before realising that I wanted to delve into an area in between architecture, art and technology.
I had explored work that wasn’t conventionally architectural in my post-graduate studies, looking at how machines and humans interact and exploring lumino kinetic art, which is essentially light and movement. Then I started to think about audience interaction, and how we can create conversations with people in different spaces.
I see it as a kind of Venn diagram, and the intersecting space is where the Studio’s work comes together. What really makes us different is that we work quite site-specifically, in cities and spaces. A lot of our work is permanent – in fact it’s more unusual for us to work on a temporary piece like Where Do We Go From Here?, so that’s going to be great to see.
Q: WHERE MIGHT WE HAVE SEEN THE WORK OF JASON BRUGES STUDIO IN THE PAST?
A: Last year, we worked with Illuminating York to illuminate the nave of York Minster. Using moving light, we animated the space to highlight different features that may have previously gone unnoticed. Whilst that project was on a much smaller scale, some of the techniques we are using here in Hull were tested in York.
One of our biggest projects was working with The Shard in London and this really allowed us to use the city as our canvas, creating work that was seen from between 30 to 60 miles away.
All of our projects have helped us to develop this idea of creating temporary urban spaces. In Hull, the focus has been on these epic robots that we have put into place, but when they come to life they are like little performers in a much bigger experience. Right now, everybody is focusing on the theatre of it all, but the play is yet to start.
Q: COMBINING ART, TECHNOLOGY AND ARCHITECTURE IS NO MEAN FEAT. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS OF THIS TYPE OF WORK?
A: Technology allows us to create some pretty big interventions without changing the space too much. The structures we have placed into the Old Town are quite big, but they are a lot smaller than what you would conventionally use to get a similar effect. There’s also that extra layer of animation – our work can be programmed to behave different at different times of the day, or on different days of the week.
There are many challenges in the work we do. Jason Bruges Studio has a core team of 25 people, from artists to coders, developers, engineers and architects, all working together to visualise software, creative narratives, develop operating systems and make sure everything is safe.
There’s a lot of research and development that goes into this work, and we have to keep our core team working together across multiple projects to allow it to continue. Otherwise, it would have been almost impossible to create something like Where Do We Go From Here? within the 12 month time-scale we had.
Our aim was to create something on an urban scale that is powerful, thought-provoking and a catalyst for the future. Hopefully the piece is as interesting to a thousand people as it is to a single person passing by.
Q: WHAT LED YOU TO THE FOUR SPACES USED IN WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
A: At the start of the project, we were given a site with a perimeter that went around the Old Town, following the medieval walls. We began to interrogate the space and found that there were areas that were great for gatherings, like Trinity Square. There are also protected spaces which have their own nice qualities, like the Museums Quarter and Wilberforce House.
We realised that a lot of people would be approaching the Old Town from Beverley Gate, so to not do something in that space seemed wrong. Because of its history, we decided that Beverley Gate would act as a gateway into the rest of the installation, encouraging people to have a look.
Q: THE STORY OF BEVERLEY GATE IS A HUGE PART OF HULL’S HISTORY. WHAT OTHER STORIES HAVE YOU DRAWN UPON IN THE INSTALLATION?
A: Very early on in the project, we spent quite a bit of time in Hull History Centre learning about things like the Civil War and Hull’s maritime history, the establishment of the docks and the technologies that came with that.
Navigation was a big thing, which has become pivotal to the project. Things like lighthouses, telegraphy and lamp signalling should be evident, in some abstract way, in the language that the robots are using. So when they flash light at you, or some sound moves past you unexpectedly, it may remind you of ships coming and going and life on the edges of a port city.
Q: HOW CAN WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? ENCOURAGE US TO THINK ABOUT OUR FUTURE?
A: I think it’s important to look at the city and embrace what it already has, then introduce some fresh ideas and bring them together as a juxtaposition of old and new. Hull has invested heavily in technology and this will continue, so I hope Where Do We Go From Here? can provoke a conversation about the different forms of technology and how it can help us to develop new ideas that can benefit everyone.
Where Do We Go From Here? runs in Hull’s Old Town from 1 Dec 2017 to 7 Jan 2017 excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day.