Mathematics & Light with Adrien Lucca
By Julia Buntaine, Editor-in-Chief
Julia Buntaine, SciArt Magazine: As an artist you are primarily concerned with light, color theory, and specifically manipulating the visual, perceptual experience. When did you begin this type of work, and what drives your interest in this form of visual expression?
Adrien Lucca: I started to work seriously on these subjects in 2008-2009, while I was student at ERG in Brussels. At that time, I wanted to find a way to make visual art with a “musical” and “mathematical” logic: I was searching for a visual media that I could manipulate with numbers. Sound is easy to manipulate using numbers (frequencies, speeds, rhythms) and values (volume, compression levels, etc.). I wanted a language to “compose visual music” in a similar way. Light and colors were good visual candidates to function like sound and instruments do in the realm of music.
When, in 2008, I realized that my knowledge of light, color, physiology, and physics was pretty poor, I decided to study color theory and the history of color science on my own with books and online resources such as Bruce MacEvoy’s website handprint.com or Narciso Silvestrini’s colorsystem.com, among other sources. One little book named Le Secret des Couleurs by Boll & Dourgnon, published in 1948, truly helped me to understand the fundamentals of colorimetry, the link between physics and color, and the difference between color and music.
Also in 2008 I registered as a student in a week-long multidisciplinary meeting about color theory, color science, and technology organized every year by a group of scientists in France, hosted by OKHRA, where I met many scientists and learned tons of new information on the subject. I went there in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
In this context, my artistic practice became for a while a series of studies or “prototypes”: I was testing the visual appearance of hypothetical ‘chromo-mathematic’ constructions formulated in a mathematical and/or logical language, and carefully built with pigments on paper, by hand, with precision drawing and laboratory instruments. Every single step of these studies was measured, every instrument was calibrated beforehand, and usually one can follow the whole process on the resulting drawings.
JB: Many of your drawings look like maps of abstract, geometrically-ruled landscapes where color, line, and shapes are plotted out in street-grid like formations. If your works were a map of a territory, how would you describe the territory?
AL: Apart for some rare cases where I mapped the space of possible color mixtures of my printer, or of my collection of custom made pigment mixtures, my works are not “mapping” a territory. I understand that someone can interpret the geometrical constructions and the arrangements of little colored signs as “maps” of some kind, and I don’t really care if they do, but I would be a bit mad if somebody were to say that this is what they are.
About the question of the map and territory, my position has always been to reduce as much as possible the distance, the difference between the “map” and the “territory” by creating what I call “visual objects.” These objects describe and document their own construction (for example, the calibration process, the colors samples, the tests and the geometric construction of a given piece of drawing will appear together on the same piece of paper), and at the same time they appear in the way they have been programmed to (for example, if I wanted to make a grid with a very precise resulting color, this precise color should appear under adequate lighting conditions). The idea, the process, and the visual result coexist together in a single form. That’s the “territory” that I am trying to construct, without separating it from the form of the artwork: it’s included inside.
JB: Can you talk a bit about the formulas and mathematics which drive your composition and aesthetics?
AL: This is all very pragmatic. Because all the things I do are formulated using geometry, logic, numbers, and real material, real lights and their physical interactions, the works that I do are always formulated in a physico-mathematical language.
I have programmed my own (private) library of spectrophotometric and colorimetric functions that I use with lab instruments (precision scales, calibrated digital camera, digital printer, spectrophotometers, etc.) This represents about 50,000 lines of code in the Python programming language. Most functions are using linear algebra, pseudo-random number generators, and classical colorimetry algorithms published by the CIE (Commission Internationale de l’Éclairage) during the second half of the 20th century.
However, these formulas are just tools in the same way as brushes, paint tubes, pencils, or airbrushes are. There is no formula that I follow systematically. I constantly try to be careful not to easily fall for some new result given by some nice mathematical trick. The works that I develop require lots of time spent looking at initial results, doubting, reprogramming, tuning parameters, deciding between options. All this work requires writing new code, new formulas, equations, but really nothing that a good high school student couldn’t do. I am not trained academically in mathematics or science but I am very curious, patient, and hard-working, so I can usually develop my tools by myself or with little help that I find on stackexchange.com.
I read often about the contemporary science - and its history – that fertilizes my imagination and gives me the drive to find artistic applications for mathematical models, methods, new ideas, or new materials that are used in laboratories today. One example – in 2016 I worked on “Entrelacs quasi-cristallins,” a series of stained glass pieces for a 12th century church in France (I didn’t end up winning the competition this time, so the project stopped after six months of research). I developed a method for drawing quasicrystal-shaped stained glass, which required weeks and weeks of study as I initially didn’t know how to generate such structures.
JB: Your piece Soleil de minuit was recently installed in the Place-d'Armes Montreal metro station. What was the process of this piece, from conception to creation?
SL: The basic desire behind Soleil de minuit was to conceive a methodology for adapting my algorithmic approach to the medium of stained glass. In 2015, I was primarily working on algorithms for producing, with an inkjet printer, pictures that were visually equivalent to some simple optical phenomenon produced by light plays: the projection of a lamp’s light on a wall, chromatic aberrations appearing in lenses, etc.
I was able to measure the light spectrum of some natural or artificial light source (a lamp, the sun, etc.) and to use it within my algorithms in order to produce a print that would duplicate its visual appearance.
In May 2015, I was finalist for the competition that was co-organized by the Region of Brussels and the metro company of Montreal in order to select an artist for making a permanent artwork in Place-d’Armes. I decided to record the sunlight spectrum of the first day of the summer in Brussels and to use it to generate 14 pictures in stained glass. The translation of this sunlight in time and space, from Brussels in 2015 to Montreal in 2017, had a symbolic resonance as a gift of something which is immaterial.
My proposal won the competition, and I became responsible of a budget of 255,000EU which would fund the creation of the work with glass makers and a bunch of other companies in Belgium for the metallic frames in which the glass panels would be placed, for the backlighting, the protection of the work in the metro, the validation of the installation plans and materials by engineers, the shipping to Canada, and the installation on site by three more Canadian companies. This was not easy and the cost of the whole project actually exceeded the allocated budget.
Four parts from "Soleil de minuit." Images courtesy of the artist.
The project really started when I decided that the best media for creating these 14 panels was mouthblown antique glass, a fantastic material that is used in traditional and contemporary stained glass. This was clearly the best option for me because the colors of antique glass are much more intense than the colors of any other artist’s material. The Belgian glass studio Debongnie, with which I collaborated on this project, introduced me to antique glass and explained me what could be realistically done with this material in relation to my first sketches.
We worked together closely for months to design, prototype, and produce the 14 glass panels that were installed in the metro earlier this year. It was extremely interesting to work as a team: they had to find solutions for building the works and I had to design software and studio tools such as maps, lists, and methods of work in order for them to do exactly what was required. That was a really beautiful collaboration. In 2016 we worked on another project and I am actively searching for new opportunities to work with them again.
"Soleil de minuit," the production at Debongnie Studios in Belgium (video)
JB: In addition to your visual art, you've worked a lot with sound. Similarly abstract, many of these works emphasize the digital quality of sound, exploring it free of traditional aesthetic constraints. Can you talk a bit about this part of your practice?
AL: I have not worked with sound for years and years. When I was still an art student, I did a few little experiments, around 2006 or so, but that’s all. I was very actively involved with sound between 1999 and 2003, a long time ago. I was still a teenager.
When I was a kid my parents wanted me to try many different activities, among which there was music. I was going to the music academy in a town nearby when I was maybe five or six, and I chose to go for the violin instead of the piano. I took regular music classes (violin, music theory, etc.) every week until I stopped at 14. I was never a good musician mostly because I was very lazy at practicing the violin, and generally moonstruck all the time. But I really loved music and when I was thinking about my future life as a “free adult,” I dreamed of becoming a music composer.
Between 1999 and 2003 I composed about 30 hours of electronic music with my computer, some basic software, and a cheap microphone. I still think of that period as the beginning of my artistic practice, both aesthetically (I was already obsessed by numbers, geometry, actively against symmetry and repetition, against any classical rules) and symbolically (it was the first time in my life I devoted myself completely to art).
JB: In your view, what is nature of the relationship between science, art, and technology in our culture? What does the future hold?
AL: I don’t like the term “our culture.” What are we talking about? I could only talk about the relationship between science, art, and technology in my experience, or in my own imaginary and personal version of the history of Western visual art.
About the future, I am not able to answer because I have no idea, and because there are so many examples of clever people making predictions about the future that look completely ridiculous 15 or 30 years later...
Personally, I see a possible common ground and common culture between art and science: my mind and my imagination have been shaped by science and by art. Maybe one could see art and science as two expressions of a common culture, but that would surely not apply to all art and to all science today or in the past, and many artists today do not exchange their ideas with scientists and vice versa.
No matter what, as a teacher I try to use today’s society to introduce science and technology to my art students. I think it is essential for art students to know that when it comes, for example, to the subject of color, there are hundreds of different professions and curriculums that deal with the topic: chemists, physicists, biologists, anthropologists, engineers, color scientists, psychologists, designers, artists, photographers, cineastes, glass blowers, ceramic artisans, architects, etc. Every single of these professions also uses and develops their very own technologies on similar grounds: for example, the science of colorimetry is practiced differently in the laboratories of L’Oréal or Chanel, in the car industry, in the plastics and coatings industry, in the printing industry, in the studio of the artist Adrien Lucca, etc.
Artists who know the vast landscape of science and industry can also develop their own way of using these technologies, which I think is a very good thing to do.
Yellow flower VS Special White light (video)
JB: What are you working on right now?
AL: I am working on several projects at the same time: in August I will be working on a 150m² permanent light/wall-painting installation in Brussels for which I created special white light sources with the help of GVA Lighting, a Canadian LED lamps manufacturer. I also made a complex system of paint color-management with the Keim mineral paints, a German company. The result will be a wall painting that changes its visual appearance from soft-pastel to neon-looking colors during the day/night cycle. This is the result of some recent ideas I got about how the color of objects could be radically changed by spectrally-tuned white light sources that look like usual white light sources. The work is call “Microkosmos” and will be inaugurated in Brussels in the spring of 2018.
I also just finished the design of an artist’s book written in French and called Mémoire d’atelier, where I explain in detail the process behind Soleil de minuit (2015-2017) and another stained glass project called Entrelacs quasi-cristallins (2016).
Finally, I am preparing the ground for some new works that relate to natural and artificial light. In November 2017, a solo exhibition about “white light” will open in RIB, Rotterdam, NL, where I will present several series of works from the period 2011-2017. And from October 2017 to February 2018 I will be working in the Belgian Academy in Rome where I will try to study with the spectrophotometer and some other methods the visual effects of atmospheric pollution over the city on the natural light’s color. I also plan to make a permanent glass artwork in the building of the Belgian Academy, that relates to my research on the colors of the sky of Rome.