Floor van de Velde got inspiration for her light boxes — featured in her latest exhibition, “Variations on ColorFields,” which opens on November 8 at McIninch Art Gallery on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University, from a Rothko exhibition at the Harvard Art Museum.
“The university decided to hang some of Rothko’s panels in a dining room,” she said. “The panels lost the majority of their pigment over the years and they were considered damaged beyond repair. But then the Harvard Museum decided to try to revive the color by using projected light. Most critics and curators were busy discussing whether this method was as reliable or effective as traditional art renovation techniques, but meanwhile it made for a fascinating show that played with notions of color and light. I found myself returning to the show several times and just sitting there enjoying the luminous color fields.”
Van de Velde then set out to create her own light boxes. “I wanted to continue making work in the spirit of the color field painters — where color itself becomes the subject. I’m drawn to the quiet and contemplative approach of artists like Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland. I’ve been working on video projection sculptures and installations for a while, but for this work I wanted to contain the light in a more controlled way, to reproduce some of the diffused light effects of projected light.”
Materially, she estimates that it took about four years to get the result she was aiming for in her light boxes through a lot of testing and trying out different fabrication ideas, both in her South End studio in Boston and in engineering facilities. Van de Velde, a graduate of the Program in Art, Culture and Technology at MIT, teaches the theory and technology of digital fabrication at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and incorporates a range of construction techniques into her own practice.
Van de Velde said the actual fabrication of the boxes puts a lot of work into achieving visual simplicity. “The materials of the light boxes are wood, acrylic, theater gels as color filters, and light. The front panels are held together with two very small screws. The rest is pressure fit. I work with some great fabricators who’ve taken my design and were able to reproduce the result on CNC machines, but it still takes a lot of handwork to make it all fit perfectly.”
Conceptually, the body of work produces color interactions in a coordinated, dynamic way. The show’s announcement states that the light sculptures explore energy in color: the objective is not to focus on the objects alone, but to create sensations of color movements in the eye of the beholder, vibrations that allow the observer to experience the conditions of perception itself and to experience color as a language of rhythm.
As the press release for the exhibition observes, the interaction of van de Velde’s colors evokes the tempo and rhythm of music, and the complex relations between the musicians that make it. This is not an accident. Van de Velde received an early immersion in the arts through her parents — her mother is a visual artist and her father an orchestra conductor. Van de Velde herself played as a professional orchestra violist until age 22, and she carried an interest in sound into her visual art practice.