United Nations International Year of Light 2015 interview, with Toby Shannon, May 2015
'Light' Conversation. Click to read interview.
Fresh from her 3-month residency at Wac Arts in London, we (International Year of Light 2015 UK) sit down for a chat with multimedia light artist Lorna Carmen McNeill to find out about what she does, how and why…
Art has always been my passion. My first words as a child, was to ask for the moon, as I wanted to bring its glowing light down to earth! At the age of 4 my parents brought me to a Kandinsky exhibition at the Guggenheim and I jumped around with joy! I was magnetically drawn to art to explore and express the beauty and rhythms I felt in being alive. I did a foundation course at Camberwell College of Art and a couple of years at Goldsmiths College during which time I was fascinated by sculpting the human form in clay and making small treasure-like objects, at a time when everyone was very political and writing on canvases. I wanted to make creations that were beauty-filled and I felt out of place in that era, so I took a year off. It took me 30 years to return, this time to the Art Academy in London to complete my fine art training.
In between, I trained to be a State Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, captivated by the body and how to help people transform their experience of life on all levels. I then worked for UCL’s health behavior change unit focusing on psychological methods to help people change their lifestyle behaviours, and subsequently for the NHS, practicing in a range of settings including acute hospital, community, GP clinics, care homes and home visits.
Finally I worked for a couple of years as Lead Mental Health Dietitian/Nutritionist for a Borough in London, based in a psychiatric hospital and the greater community. I initiated a Food and Mood Group in which we helped patients to identify their life passion, connect to this and then substitute this for unhelpful or self-harming eating behaviours. This meant we encouraged, singing, writing, painting, sculpting, anything creative connecting to their individual passions, which transcended their problems. In this process I reconnected to my own passion for art, and realized that I actually wanted to be doing it – focusing on nutrition of the soul, as well as the body.
So after over 20 years as a clinician, I went back to college and retrained as an artist.
What drives you as an artist and what makes you work with light?
I am inspired by the properties of light, colour, energy and texture within the natural and inner worlds, by the flow of water and the movements of the sun and the moon as they transform the sky from day to night, and how this reflects the inner transformational journey of being human. The very sense that nothing seems stable all too often results in doubt and uncertainty. I focus on exploring a deeper nature of reality – the certain continuum of life and its eternal evolving cycles and through my light art, invite the viewer to directly experience a world of connectedness, luminous flow, and calm, comforted by the eternal constancy that transcends all things. In this way I hope to uplift mood, transform and inspire creativity.
Light is central, both within my own art practice and my workshop facilitation. I seek creative transformation through aligning with the invisible, light-infused rhythmic communication that permeates everything. I now also work with immersive, interactive and multi-disciplinary collaborative experiences to enable a more direct experience of this.
During my training at the Art Academy I focused on learning both painting and sculpture skills full time for 3 years. Given my interest with luminosity, I eventually started to work with glass paints and sculpting heated perspex and shining light through it. I became fascinated by projection to seemingly enable a non-visible world to be more visible and this projection became as important as the sculpture itself. As my work became increasingly technical, I started collaborating with creative lighting and structural designer Geoff Blindt, and more recently Richard Burns, an interactive digital programmer to help me unite newer light, digital and interactive technologies with fine art.
Since my first major light installation at my graduation show, my work has been showcased at numerous locations including the Barbican, Nesta, Womad and e-Luminate.
During my time as a clinician, in my holidays I learnt how to paint traditional icons (representing a doorway to the light-filled heavenly worlds) using gold leaf and tempera painting through prayer and meditation. In a way, my light installations have become a contemporary re-interpretation of the traditional icon as a doorway to the Divine worlds.
make ‘optical’ sculptures with different degrees of opacity, transparency and luminosity using transparent materials such as perspex. I heat the thermoplastics, they surrender their form, becoming fluid and flexible and I then freely sculpt or transform them with my hands into countless forms. I am also interested in the sacred geometry in platonic solids and their sequential relationships, so I construct these forms and combine them with the more fluid shaped forms. The application of transparent colour combined with different iridescent films and resins gives texture and variation.
A variety of methods are then used to enable an optimal fusion of fine art with technology: variations of small low energy light and light from large scale projectors are shone through the sculptures. Digital photography of the rotating pieces is then re-projected in live time onto a screen behind them, combining with projected rays of coloured light through the shapes, interactive digital technology and sound. The result is an infinitely changing, interactive, uplifting immersive light and colour experience.
How did light feature in your recent 3 month residency at Wac Arts in London?
I recently obtained an Arts Council Grant to fund my residency at Wac Arts, London. ‘Light-Life Ignite’ was developed during my 3 months there and took on a new life as an interactive installation – ‘Light-Life Ignited!’. This development happened in response to feedback and facilitating creative interactive workshops (Light-Life Igniting) with the young people in Wac Art programmes. ‘Light-Life Ignited!’ introduced an interactive digital component in this installation which made it completely different from my previous installations. When the viewer is in front of the installation, the projected light patterns change in response to the movement. For example on approaching the installation one person might trigger the light of a sun rising, representing constant light at the core illuminating all things, whilst another would trigger breaking through kaleidoscopic life patterns which are interactive.
During my time there, I delivered dialogue workshops between different art disciplines including light, sound, music, dance and movement and a range of different art materials and processes. My light installations and the light from it, acted as a central trigger for all the activities and as a source of inspiration. By flowing from one medium or approach to the next, relationship, unexpected creative flow and dialogue was enabled.It seems that using a variety of materials in dialogue with multi-disciplinary input across art forms (fine art, movement, music), helped to trigger innovative creative processes. According to a couple of tutors at Wac Arts, commenting after a music improvisation session with the young people in response to the light installation: “it was more than a music playing session, actually the art work (light installation) was bringing us all together to create like a collective inspiration”. “It was very relaxing, it made us play better together”.
Where next with your light art work?
I am continuing to develop new bodies of light work, both large and small and to explore how to make these more immersive, kinetic and interactive.
With a focus on light at the core of my work, I hope to develop new forms and methods for performance workshops using 360 degrees immersive, interactive digital technology combined with fine art installations, dance and music to pilot on a wide variety of different groups. The aim will be to engage participants into a vibrant, immediate creative exploration to expand and enrich human experience.
I love tutoring at The Art Academy, London, offering innovative interactive workshop experiences and team building for businesses, charities, and groups, and private tutoring. I would like to continue to develop this to facilitate triggering each person’s unique individual creative process.