Light Matter

by Giada Giachino

Kind of witty and punk, Jordan Söderberg Mills is an interdisciplinary artist from Ontario, Canada. After attending the Art History at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and Architecture at the Universidad Diego Portales, in Santiago, Chile, he work as blacksmith apprentice with master sculptor Francisco Gazitua in the foothills of the Andes. He moved later to London for the two years MA in Furniture Design at Central Saint Martins.

That's exactly were our paths crossed, I was at the first year, Jordan was a senior of my course. I will always remember his presentation to our peers (an old tradition of the course, aim to set the standards, and a perpetual anxious/competitive mood, in my case): Jordan showed a 10x25 cm table prototype made exclusively of layered sheets of glass. I don't remember his pitch, that was still not really clear, I just  remember that Jordan had a small light.

He switched it on at the end of the presentation, pointing it on the table model. The layers of the prototype refracted and reflected the light, creating a pattern within the glass. I remember I turned at my classmates, we were following that light as cats with a laser pointer, it was almost magic.

The interesting thing about Jordan's pieces (are they furniture pieces, art pieces? At this point I don't think it really matters) is that their description would always sound a little bit dull, compared to their visual impact. Giving an example, I could say that the pieces are mostly glass, acrylic, metal and lighting installations where light is used as constructive material, and therefore has its own volume, consistency, colour, etc. but this would not help.

So let's do it this way, I leave you with a really short explanation of what light is, so you can understand what is the magic behind, and then you can have a look at the images from Jordan's project and his interview.

The base of Jordan's research lies in the so-called geometrical optics- applying geometrical methods to the optics of lenses, mirrors and prisms. The most famous practitioner of geometrical optics was Ibn al-Haytham, who lived in present-day Iraq between A.D. 965 and 1039. Ibn al-Haytham identified the optical components of the human eye and correctly described vision as a process involving light rays bouncing from an object to a person's eye. The Arab scientist also invented the pinhole camera, discovered the laws of refraction and studied a number of light-based phenomena, such as rainbows and eclipses.

Refraction occurs when a ray of light passes from one transparent medium to a second transparent medium. When this happens, light changes speed and the light ray bends, either toward or away from what we call the normal line, an imaginary straight line that runs perpendicular to the surface of the object. The amount of bending, or angle of refraction, of the light wave depends on how much the material slows down the light.

Reflection happens when a ray of light hits a surface, ans it bounces in a certain way. The incoming angle, called the angle of incidence, is always equal to the angle leaving the surface, or the angle of reflection. When light hits a surface at a low angle -- like on a lake at sunset -- it bounces off at the same low angle and hits your eyes full blast, rather than obliquely as when the sun sits overhead. This is why the sun's glare during the evening and morning is so much more intense than during the rest of the day.

 

Shadow, 2012

Shadow, 2012

Shadow, 2012

Shadow, 2012

Eidolon, 2017

Eidolon, 2017

Eidolon, 2017

Eidolon, 2017

1. You define yourself as an “interdisciplinary artist” - your background is in architecture, art and design. How do you explore the boundaries of these different personas in your work?

This is an interesting question and one I come across often. 

As an artist, I’m driven by concept - how can I translate a digital experience into a physical object? 

I apprenticed with an artist and blacksmith Francisco Gazitua in Chile, who worked with Antony Caro, so I’m a part of that sculptural lineage. In their work, they often talked about moments of transition - how to move from one material to the next, how to get from a plane to a curve, a solid to a hollow. I try to explore this idea in a more abstract manner, looking at the moment of transition between an object and space, or an object and the viewer. I push this kind of conceptual thinking in my practice every day. 

As a (failed) architect, I am always thinking about the viewer in relation to an object and the space around it - in particular, how an object can inhabit space, and how these discrete elements can interact. My work does the most interesting things in unusual spaces, reflecting and collapsing its surroundings - I’m always trying to build weird little atmospheres, or worlds within worlds. 

As a designer, I apply design thinking to my practice - balancing research and making, iterating, exploring materials and strategizing where I see the work. I set out to be a creative entrepreneur - by finding different ways to spin out my ideas, refining them, and setting specific and achievable goals. This is a bit anathema in the art world - people like their artists poor, hungry, or dead (see: death by “exposure,”) but I manage.

2. From Shadow (2012) to your last experience during Milan Design Week with Eidolon (2017) - what have been the breakthroughs and where do you identify your leitmotif?

My grandfather recently passed away, and left me this giant glass prism that he used to keep on his desk. It sat in his front hallway, in front of a big picture window that would get flooded with sunlight. Looking back I think it must have had an effect on me - this magical thing that was precious as a self-contained object, but could also produce these amazing patterns and colours in the space around it. 

I drifted through a lot of different careers, doing most of them badly. I started and stopped university more times than I’d like to admit. My apprenticeship opened up a lot of doors when it came to making - I was exploring light and shadow on sculptural forms in steel and stone. I feel like my biggest breakthrough was picking up a prism at school again (my friend Cristobal found me some really good ones at the Science Museum gift shop.) Sticking them in the sun, and playing with these ephemeral patterns just sparked something in me, made me remember that big prism on my grandpa’s desk. It made me realise the plasticity of light, and colour as a physical thing. I discovered my medium - objects that react to light, un-weave and rebuild it, that seem almost alive. This has been a big part of my work ever since.

3. Your recent pieces made a wide impact on social media - are they made for selfies? They provide the best Instagram filters for the last 5 years. Are you doing it on purpose? Please say yes, because I think you have a market there!

When I set out to understand light and colour I didn’t realise it would have this kind of reaction. My first experiments with mirrors were really about catching light, trying togive it some depth. I was experimenting with these thick, heavy surfaces that would diffuse light in multiple layers, building a kind of low-fi hologram, or 3D printing with light.   I had this eureka moment after pulling an all-nighter, watching the sun come up in my flat, when I realised what I could do with colour and mirror, reducing the materials, and flipping them from flat surfaces to vertical mirrors. 

These are analog filters, made to create physical images with light.  I was surprised by the reaction to the work, but it makes sense: I was trying to flip between physical and digital objects and experiences, and now people make their own digital artefacts out of the work. In a way it completes the circle, or adds to the concept.  

4.  Where and how do you see the future of your practice? 

Things have been blowing up lately, it’s brilliant. I’m currently figuring out how to create sustainable growth in my studio without burning out - carefully and with purpose. I’ve been travelling a lot, with projects going on in 6 countries at the moment. I’ve begun working on a ballet, sets for music videos, collaborating with some big name musicians (all a little secret at the moment,) installations for fashion houses, and showing in art galleries. I have a collection of furniture coming out in Brazil, and a concept store I’m designing in the U.S. 

I’m working on launching a smartphone lens using some pretty rad optical filtering. It lets you shoot in 3 directions simultaneously, while overlaying spectral colour. It’s this flexible, physical filter that I love experimenting with. I’ve lent a few out to creative friends and everyone discovers completely new things to do with them. I’m moving into more serial production of design objects, which is pretty exciting - working on branding, packaging, and market research is a good way to ground the practice in reality.  

I love that I can facilitate the creativity of others, let them participate in the work and create their own images - my friend Salimah Ebrahim (founder of the arts organisation Artery) once called my work “an invitation” - I love this. I can only hope I continue to make these objects that are exploratory, creative invitations. 

Septum Spectra, 2017

Septum Spectra, 2017

Septum Spectra, 2017

Septum Spectra, 2017

Septum Spectra, 2017

Septum Spectra, 2017