“Constraint is the wellspring of creativity” (interview with light artist Alice Bain)

Link: “Constraint is the wellspring of creativity” (interview with light artist Alice Bain)

My favorite excerpt from this interview:

Gavin: What’s the process like for you in creating a piece from idea to final product?

Alice: I get started just by playing around with stuff. I’ll pick up a new material because it seems like it might be interesting to work with, and sometimes I’ll have inspiration right then, or sometimes it’ll sit on the shelf for a few months before I discover what it wants to be. I have a parallel process of more or less continuous materials research, because they’re always coming out with new LED light systems. I don’t ever work from a concrete vision of what I want to make; I “ask” the lights by playing around with them, trying different diffusion methods (fabric, plastic, fiber optic filament, glass etc.) to see what looks the nicest. I am also always on the lookout for visual inspiration. I regularly browse through a few different internet image aggregators just for fun, and I collect inspiration there, too. Once I’ve gotten an idea of what a piece wants to be, putting it together is a little like growing a plant from seed; I don’t think about it too concretely – it just seems to happen. I’ll sometimes just stop working for half an hour at a time, and stare at the piece with my mind feeling awfully blank. I’ve learned not to worry about this! It’s as if the idea for the piece is out there somewhere in the ether, and I’m just the lens it uses to focus itself into reality. Usually at the beginning the concept is half-baked, and I’ll cannibalize it and do a few more iterations before it starts to come together properly. It helps to be humble about this process. I can’t get too attached to any single iteration; it has to stand up conceptually – and other people have to like it – before the evolution’s done.

Gavin: I would imagine with all the electronics involved there’s some very careful planning taking place with the design. Does that ever feel restricted as to what you can do, or do you try to branch out from that as best you can?

Alice: Restriction – constraint – is the wellspring of creativity. There’s nothing more tyrannical than the writer’s original blank page. This is part of the reason I’m not a writer! When you can create anything, often you end up creating nothing – the focus just won’t come. Having constraints is like having a solid foundation to build a house on top of. I work strictly with out-of-the-box existing tech, which means I buy strings of Christmas lights just like you could get at the store or on the internet. The challenge of taking those lights and reinterpreting them in a really beautiful and compelling way is a big part of what motivates me. So far, the most complicated electrical engineering I’ve had to tackle has been redesigning the power bus for the light strands (i.e. getting power from the wall outlet to multiple strands in a single piece). The LED lights are cool-burning and very durable, and they put up with a lot of monkey business without failure.