UnitedVisualArtists (UVA) is a London-based art-and-design studio that works primarily with light, utilizing the ephemeral medium in experiential installations that could be described as sculptural or soft architecture. Its practice began through collaborations with music acts such as Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers, creating stage and lighting designs for their live performances; subsequent collaborators include U2, Jay-Z, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Its most recent permanent work, Slipstream, was just realized in Toronto, Canada, within the iconic Toronto Eaton Centre. This past spring UVA was asked by the Creators Project to redesign the main stage for Coachella 2011. This work is now being reincarnated and reimagined through UVA's latest piece, Origin, in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, as part of another Creators Project event. In the midst of hectic final touches on the piece, Details had a chance to catch up with UVA architect Alexandros Tsolakis to discuss a current project and the evolution of art installations.
Slipstream, Toronto 2011
Details: What is the Creators Project, and how did your collaboration come about?
Alexandros Tsolakis: The Creators Project is an initiative from Vice and Intel, aiming to support arts and crafts using digital technologies. Their new platform, the Studio, enabled us to create Orchestrion at Coachella and tour its variations around the world this year. The first time we became involved as "Creators" was two years ago, when we toured our existing work Triptych on a string of their events. Our collaboration continued this year in a completely different context, creating brand-new work for the Studio, with our pieces Orchestrion, Conductor, Room With a View, and Origin.
Details: It seems that, increasingly, collaboration—with other disciplines, with brands—is becoming the new patronage. Is this the way—given that art installations are also increasingly ambitious, complex, and greater in scale—that these kinds of projects will now be realized?
Alexandros Tsolakis: Collaborating with other disciplines is a requirement of our job. Integrating and utilizing technologies into design and art can be really demanding, so we are always looking to find the right people. With corporations, it seems lately that they're more into supporting arts, rather than purely using them as branding opportunities. There's a long way to go, but the future is promising.
Details: Is permanence with your installations something you strive for? Or is the permanence becoming almost relative—if it can be alive even briefly, or travel to numerous countries and institutions—does this give it something of a legacy, one that can be documented and continue to live through that documentation?
Alexandros Tsolakis: Permanent light installations are something we focused on for the last two years. It's been a field we always wanted to explore, and there's so much potential. Documentation is something we put a lot into, but at the end of the day, it's impossible to convey the experience of our pieces through video and photographs.
Canopy + Connection, Toronto 2010
Details: Does reshaping or reconfiguring an existing work provide you with the same inspiration that creating something from scratch does?
Alexandros Tsolakis: Although in the past we did have to make reconfigurations of existing work when touring on different places most of them were minor. This year's collaboration with The Creators Project has been a new thing for us. The idea was formed around a modular system with the potentials of redefining itself as a concept and as a structure.
Details: It must be a massive rush to see it all come together, especially after coming down to the wire, to see the lights go on and, say, a band, take the stage. How does that feel in comparison to completing a permanent piece only to have to fly home a couple of days later after its opening?
Alexandros Tsolakis: We started by designing shows back in 2003, and it's still part of our design output. Nowadays we've got the tools and experience to face the challenges of temporary design, but you're right, it's still a very stressful process in comparison to a permanent install where all the issues can be addressed way in advance.
Details: Where are you off to after this week?
Alexandros Tsolakis: Including Origin, we have had five shows and installation openings within the last month. It's been a very busy period. Now it's back to the drawing board for us. We've got a few things coming up next, including another new permanent light piece in Canada.
UVA's Origin sculpture will be located under the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo. It will be open to the public starting October 12 from 5 to 9 p.m. Over the weekend (October 15 and 16), it will be open all day from 12 to 10 p.m., then from 5 to 9 p.m. through October 23.
—By Justin Ridgeway