Korean media design studio HYBE‘s ethereal installation Light Tree : Interactive Dan Flavin explores the tangibility of light through simple and innovative design and engineering. Long, sleek fluorescent lights melt into a plethora of colors, glowing in and out of luminescence according to your touch. As the name alludes, Light Tree is an homage to American minimalist Dan Flavin known for his extraordinary manipulation of fluorescent light fixtures. We met with HYBE’s designer Changmin Han to chat about their installation and how exactly they’re inspired by Flavin.
The Creators Project: Please introduce yourself and the work you do.
Changmin Han: My name is Changmin Han and I am in charge of design and planning for studio HYBE. With device artist Sungwoong Ryu, we seek to produce new experiences through the fusion of space relayed in the name of our studio, HYBE—Hive for Hybrid Environment. We both went to Ravensbourne College to pursue our MA’s in Interactive Digital Media. From there, we have been working with established artists in various fields in the expansion of media, as well as with fusing media with industrial realms like architecture in addition to our own works.
Light Tree : Interactive Dan Flavin (2011)
Your recent work Light Tree is a homage to Dan Flavin. Can you elaborate on this?
In 2006, I got to see Dan Flavin: A Retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London. For me, this was the second experience I would never forget in relation to the medium of “space,” the first being the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. At the Dan Flavin exhibition, I didn’t really need that sort of complex and conscious judgment and understanding. Even though I didn’t understand the context, I felt all of my senses being affected according to the text that was immediately visible. I thought, this must be synesthesia.
As a result of that exhibition, I discovered a keyword. “Immersion.” “Immersion” is a condition we always keep in mind when constructing our works. And so rather than saying that we were inspired by Dan Flavin for our work Light Tree, I would say that his works present a comprehensive directionality for the entirety of our creative process.
Are there any specific works of Dan Flavin that might have particularly influenced Light Tree?
When considering the definition of design, it is said to be “the expression of a purpose.” Right after we established HYBE, our purpose was a bit [vague] for awhile. With most of our clients from industrial realms such as interior design, architecture and so forth, it was more often that they wanted us to basically package technological marvelousness. Before we made Light Tree, we created RIM Interactive Touch Light which comes from a similar context of experimenting with LED related industrial materials.
RIM Interactive Touch Light (2010)
It is three meters in height and constructed from an iron frame, an LED ticker module, and an infrared sensor-equipped touch monitor that responds to user touch. Based on a function sustained by hardware, this interactive light was intended to facilitate a “lingering of experience.” It was pretty complex, and perhaps even lacking in some aspect. It was definitely a moment where “less is more” was necessary. Rather than putting forward technical specifics, we came to realize that experimenting with the aforementioned keyword “immersion” and a solid, minimal design was what brought Dan Flavin’s work to mind and has now become the story behind our works.
A tree that breathes with light, Light Tree becomes one with the space. And the light permits a viewer’s conscious appreciation, [allowing] physical and direct participation, uniting and embedding the space with stories.
What about the technological story behind Light Tree? Can you explain the software and hardware used to construct it?
The hardest part in making Light Tree was the fluid continuity of the context—the method of making the physical interaction with viewers possible while maintaining the mise-en-scène at its best with the fluorescent lights used by Dan Flavin. This would have been impossible with just a simple application of the established materials, and so we had to design and create all of the functional embodiments for the LED modules and sensor modules. Particularly, we had to arrange a fixed distance for the possibiltiy of an overall sensing, a natural interaction, through the miniature infrared proximity sensors
As interactive media, Light Tree’s especial feature is that it is in and of itself media. It is the content. To make this happen, we used what has recently been gaining much attention as a physical computing development environment, Arduino. And with programming, the MCU installed within the work became part of the work and by its function we were able to produce a very intuitive method for viewers to exchange emotional content.