Q+A with Light Artist Dori Deng
Dori Deng is a London based artist working at the frontier of art and design and specializing in light sculpture and time-based mediums. Through her architectural approach, she draws inspiration from each space and creates light-augmented environments.
EL : Could you tell us more about your background and studies?
DD : I was in the 4D pathway in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins. At that time, Saint Martins was on Charing Cross Road, on the edge of Soho within all the exciting happenings. My pathway had a focus on time-based elements, we explored a lot in experimental film and performance at the time. I was kind of obsessed with the Expanded Cinema, multi-media theatre and contemporary dance in those years which set the ground stone of my work afterward.
EL : How did you end up realizing that your mediums of choice were light and performances?
DD : My earliest memory of luminosity was when I was a kid, around four years old, in China. I often peaked through the gap of the door in the night, secretly watching the films my parents were watching. Once, I saw this Sci-fi film showing a floating luminous object, that image stuck in my mind since.
I am always trying to reproduce the feeling of a weightless piece of light floating in the air. That early experience probably triggered something in me. Only eight years ago, I discovered that the film I watched was James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ from 1989. Our instant sometimes triggered by physical experience.
In art school, I spent a lot of time in the studio on my own with a few projectors and all sorts of sheet materials. There was always a projector and things just organically formed: the projected light sequence, moving body in relation to space and other materials.
EL : You did not take the easy way of choosing to work with such ephemeral mediums. What place does this specificity hold in your work?
DD: You are right, I do give myself a hard time!
My main material is the projected light. Its movement is always relating to time and architecture. So it was only natural for me to construct works that have a sense of duration, whether that is in the form of performance or installation. It was never a decision to make ephemeral works, but rather an understanding of the materials I am dealing with. Even when I am working on ideas of permanent site-specific installation, the sense of duration would also apply in some ways.
Light is coming from burning fuel; it also has been a way of measuring the distance scientifically. It is a durational and sensual material to me. To extract its nature, it makes sense to me to compose and make it interact with time and space.
“Light is coming from burning fuel; it also has been a way of measuring the distance scientifically. It is a durational and sensual material to me. To extract its nature, it makes sense to me to compose and make it interact with time and space.”
— Dori Deng
EL : Is this choice politically or philosophically charged in your practice?
DD: I will say neither. Perhaps only physically.
My practice is materiality based, the nature of my materials drive and direct me to make compositional decisions. I want my materials to stay honest and pure without being overly translated.
EL : You mainly design site-specific installations where architecture is the starting point of your projects. Why is space so valuable in your process?
DD : Site visit is always the first step for me in every project. I need to be in the architecture space to feel the scale and volume, extract the pattern and rhythm of its character. Our sense of space can only be built by a tangible experience. We establish the understanding of distance, height or depth of an area through our activity within. For instant in the darkness, through shouting or screaming, we could understand the scale of the space we are in. Our interaction with the space activates the architecture.
I started with the mediums of projected light and body movement by following my immediate sense and interest to particular art forms. Slowly I realized that all these elements; the moving light, the moving body, and the duration, are the fundamental elements to form an architectural space. Architecture is not only just the starting point, but it is also the point of arrival of my work.
“Architecture is not only just the starting point, but it is also the point of arrival of my work.”
— Dori Deng
EL : Your pieces are designed so that they eventually disappear. How necessary is the documentation of your work?
DD : Actually, my work is not designed to disappear and, quite often, I think my site-specific work lasts longer than an object stands on a plinth in a box-like gallery. Architectural space brings us experience; duration leaves us memory. These sensibilities stay with us longer and sink deeper.
Documentation is always tricky for me, purely because I work with all these abstract and sensory mediums. Us, as human, have very unique way of experiencing. None of these sensibilities can be represented by a camera. The only valid way to document is through our own experience in situ.
EL : Who are your influences and who inspires you?
DD: A lot of the time, experimental and avant-garde music from the 60s and 70s trigger my thoughts. Morton Feldman is one of the composers whose work really interested me. His way of understanding time is unique. Stemming from the same era in New York, the Judson Church dancers are also very interesting to me. The notation making, task giving methods in choreography at the time were revolutionary. There is also the members of the Expanded Cinema, from the UK, who interpreted time and space through the materiality of film, projectors, and bodies. Artists such as Anthony McCall, Malcolm Le Grice and Guy Sherwin are my heroes.
All of this 70s music, dance, and films had a lot of influences on me. Their liberation facing the existing mediums and the modern approach to methodology they developed is fascinating.
EL : Where can we expect to see your work in the upcoming months?
DD: There is a new catalog coming out with Arte Luce about my last piece commissioned by them in Berlin. I am also making a new piece of site-specific installation in a public space in south London with the artists run independent organization Recreational Grounds. Again, it is going to be ephemeral and challenging with the specific site conditions of public space!