Lighting Rig: an amateur assemblage of lighting components that casts light. To be used during an event.

Lighting Rig will be part of The Black Book Interview Project, Tuesday 18th September 2012 at Seventeen gallery 11am - 6pm curated by Dani Admiss and Gillian Russell. 

The Black Book Interview Project London (Press release PDF)
Seventeen gallery
17 Kingsland Road
London E2 8AA

"The inner contradiction of the concept of function-led action or communication sculpture, the contradiction of work and event cannot be resolved in practice; at best viewers may perceive it in their imaginations at the same time." Franz West

29th June, 2011

Outdoor Space in RCA Show 2011 by Department 21,. Sam Ely & Lynn Harris In collaboration with Lily Hall, Sabel Gavaldon & Mette Kjaergaard Praest (first year MA students in Curating Contemporary Art at the RCA)

Text by Lily Hall, Sabel Gavaldon & Mette Kjaergaard

Why might a precarious lighting rig claim to be ‘functional’ in a discussion space with no stage? What would be the most appropriate lighting design for a nomadic college department that takes place outdoors? A Lighting Rig by artists Sam Ely and Lynn Harris was installed for a single day at the entrance to the Royal College of Art on Jay Mews, on 29 June 2011. It was installed in-between public and private space, following an invitation from us, who in turn had been invited by Sophie Demay and the current working team at Department 21 to contribute to a week-long programme of events and interventions, running concurrently with the RCA graduating students’ SHOW 2011.

Department 21 was provisionally set up by RCA students in 2009. It was conceived as a cross-departmental working space; a conceptual space that is generated by the contributions of shifting partners, supporters and sporadic collaborators. This fictional Department exists intermittently as an experiment in interdisciplinary practice, aiming to produce an alternative social space within the university: one that is self-organised, practice-led and necessarily changing.

Ely and Harris were invited to contribute on the occasion of a discussion about inclusive and context-specific forms of architecture and design. How can design contribute to transformative social processes? How might architecture be ‘participatory’? What does it mean to re-think design beyond an end product? How can design improve public spaces and produce social cooperation? During the discussion that took place at Department 21 on the 29th of June, one participant touched upon a critical point: ‘Well, sometimes design might not be needed, or it might be counterproductive... Sometimes people just don’t want or need design’.

Following our initial conversations with Ely and Harris, they provided us with a title, ‘Lighting Rig’, a box containing cheap lighting materials and some operational instructions: ‘1) Enclosed parts can be adapted at will. 2) You can use as few or as many as you need. 3) Feel free to add your own. 4) Document each position with photography or video. 5) Write a 500 word reflection on your use of the object’. The ‘object’ was basically an assortment of DIY materials (coloured light bulbs, small reflectors, colour filters and extension cord). A ready-to-use lighting structure, apparently pointing towards the aesthetics of the affordable, accessible, operative and unfinished. And yet, such a portable sculpture remained deliberately abstract and not-yet-functional: it was like a colour code with no message.

Abiding by Ely & Harris’s instructions, the Rig had an itinerant presence on Jay Mews as we changed the lights’ configuration throughout the day, in parallel with shifts in the Department 21 programme. Its cables coiled between D21’s bright blue-and-red temporary seating structure and the RCA’s entrance railings and concrete stairways. During term-time this space functions as a thoroughfare; an in-between social spot to stop for a moment on your way between the Hockney and Darwin buildings of the College. The aim was for the Lighting Rig to echo and spotlight the organised events temporarily taking place, including the talk Designing the Design Process, with Carlos Villanueva Brandt (Diploma 10 Unit Master, Architectural Association), Theo Lorenz (Tutor and Director of AAIS Interprofessional Studio, Architectural Association) & Roberto Bottazzi (Tutor, Department of Architecture, Royal College of Art). But the idea was that that the Rig would also bear witness to moments of inactivity or incidental activity that would necessarily fill the spaces in-between.

Whilst pondering where and how to position the Rig, a series of formal and purely visual games came to light. These playful associations came as a result of the fact that its function as a ‘useful’ source of lighting was so redundant in daylight hours. Two spotlights were set up to cast faint blue tints onto Department 21’s publicity posters for Lighting Rig; a tongue-in-cheek gesture that turned the lights in on themselves for a moment, highlighting their presence as an intervention within Department 21. Next, a square sheet of golden Perspex with a reflective, royal blue circle in the middle caught our eye - propped up on the concrete ledge of the stairway leading up to the doors to the Darwin building. It sparked a visual game, or a series of formal associations, echoing the circles of blue light that the Lighting Rig was casting. An orange bulb was installed above the gold-and-blue square, and they looked as if they were in conversation.

As it got dark, we spot-lit Federico Strate Pezdi whilst he introduced his programme for Department 21’s Summer Cinema, and Sophie Demay, who introduced the Lighting Rig to its audience. The trees behind the cinema screen were lit up in red and purple, setting a stage for the evening and illuminating incidental passers-by, and a couple of red lamps added a strange glow to the ambience of the evening, poised in-amongst the handlebars of bicycles.

Throughout the day the Lighting Rig generated a series of associations and conversations between and around us. What would a useful intervention at Department 21 consist of, anyway? What does it mean to make sculpture in a social space? There is something rather ambiguous in the literalness of this lighting rig (a ‘functional’ object) that somehow mirrors the framework in which it is inscribed, and adds criticality to a particular context of discussion. At the same time, an art intervention in an art college necessarily deals with art. In this case, it seems difficult not to regard Lighting Rig in relation to the (now institutionalised) aesthetics of site-specific intervention. That is to say, as an ironic response to the current trend by which contemporary art assumes the role of a service industry within the complex operations of re-branding or ‘transforming’ galleries and public spaces, and providing them with conceptual grandeur and symbolic surplus-value. Needless to say, Lighting Rig by Ely and Harris remained almost invisible and problematic. Like Department 21, it points towards the possibility of a structural change in the way (art) production takes place.

Photographs courtesy of Lily Hall, Sabel Gavaldon & Mette Kjaergaard

Department 21’s platform for the Royal College of Art Show 2011 explores the interface between the private and the public. Located at the border of college, the project aims to address questions of ownership, authorship, collective production, as well as the accessibility of educational spaces.

24rd June to 2nd July 2011
Open Daily — 1 to 4pm
Outdoor Room and steps activated through critical dialogue & interdisciplinary activities.

Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore (Acces via Jay Mews)

Department 21 is kindly supported by Eurostar and ADM-HEA.


The Bunker, Maidstone, Kent 2010

In collaboration with Mike, Paul and Tom from the band Hexicon

Garage transformed into recording studio, transformed into gathering place to borrow, play and experiment. Hexicon moved into Mike's garage in Kent, moving in loads of unique analogue recording equipment. Here they produced some of the earlier and more experimental Hexicon sounds as well as their more standard sets. Once it got out that they had some interesting pieces of equipment and space to record, a social scene was set. Musicians came to hang out, borrow equipment, record, play and rehearse. Lots of sets, lots of sounds, lots of drinks. 

The lighting rig was introduced to cast light, to be a scene shifter, to illuminate each set as needed by each band. Reverberations of a theme. Light, shadow and sound.