UVA Think Inside The Box

Breaking from their previous installation and experience-based work, United Visual Artists unveil their latest project

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With a portfolio that includes commissions from Vivienne Westwood, the V&A and electro-jazzers Battles, the 18 strong collective that work under the umbrella of United Visual Artists are no strangers to diverse challenges. Having built their reputation as the leading exponents of light-based installation work and cross-media experiential spaces, UVA’s new collection for their first solo show is a bold move into the realm of art as object.  The Smithfield Gallery show Deus, curated by Vivienne Gaskin, presents a series of photographic light boxes exploring the emotional effects of illuminating landscapes marked by the fingerprint of human intervention. Dazed caught up with UVA co-founder and creative director Matt Clark at the opening to find out more.

Dazed Digital: What was behind your decision to experiment with static objects, in contrast with your usual immersive environments?
Matt Clark: When we started UVA we were predominately designing for live performance, using light to create a focal point for a large audience. With our installation work we created spaces where people were completely immersed, experiencing light on a very intimate level. We became more and more fascinated by the notion of light as a presence, how it changes the way people relate to the space around them, and to others.
The challenge we set ourselves with this exhibition was to try to distill these explorations of light into single static images, while retaining the emotive quality of our installation and live performance work.

DD: How did you arrive at the concept and theme for this series of works?  
Matt Clark: We were interested in the idea that illuminating an object or a place brings it into existence, in a very real sense. We wanted to examine the way in which a particular kind of light creates a sense of presence and focus, something we've observed in our previous installation works. The name Deus was chosen as a deadpan observation that the light is the creator, but it's also just an assembly of technology created by people. It invites you to consider it as an object of worship, but also to critique it.

DD: What considerations were behind the specific choice of locations? Were these sites you'd scouted when researching other projects?
Matt Clark: We explored several locations that seemed entirely natural. However, all of the locations had been man made or had been influenced by man’s intervention in some way – there is a certain mystique because of that. By introducing artificial light into these natural landscapes, we are literally creating new places that only exist due to our intervention.
Some of the locations we had worked in before, the quarries for example were close to where we shot the Battles video.

DD: Can you talk a bit about the execution of the concept?
Matt Clark: We’ve been working on this project on and off for a few months now. There were several test shoots where we experimented with various lighting technologies in different locations. The final images were shot over a two week period but a lot of planning went into the project beforehand.
We used an intensely powerful metal halide light source to illuminate the landscapes. The light source was so powerful that it required its own generator so there was a lot of heavy equipment to carry around. We were exposed to the elements and the fact that we were miles from civilization meant if anything broke it would ruin a nights work. Thankfully, that didn't happen.

DD: How would you position this collection in relation to your previous work?
Matt Clark: This series relates most closely to Monolith, the light installation we created for a one-night show at the John Madejski garden in the V&A. There's also a lineage from the music video we created for Battles’ "Tonto" single, with its contrast of artificial light with a stark natural background.

Deus runs at the Smithfield Gallery until 27th June.
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