As projected light – in the form of artwork that can see, hear and react to spectators, the environment it exists in and to streaming data that it consumes from the internet – continues to eagerly find walls, ceilings, sculptures and beautiful architecture as its canvas, I felt it was important to examine the modern day history of Light as Art and specifically one of its early inventors and practitioners.
The inventor and artist Thomas Wilfred in 1919 created the Clavilux, a custom projector that enabled him to project his Lumia art of light on walls. Although the Clavilux had the precision of an automaton, with a set of controls Wilfred was able to spontaneously adapt the characteristics of the projected light, altering what would have otherwise been a deterministic series of imagery.
Called “one of the most consistent pioneers in the ‘Art of Light'” by Jack Burnham in Beyond Modern Sculpture, with unrelenting artistic integrity that could have made Wilfred a fortune, he rejected all offers to commercialize his invention. Eclipsed by competing formal artwork, “Wilfred has taken this lack of artistic recognition with some bitterness, and only since the trend toward Light Art in the 1960’s” – where he received multiple commissions from the Museum of Modern Art which inspired members of the Psychedelic art movement – “has his position as an innovator been partially restored.” – Jack Burnham.
Are there parallels to be drawn between the lack of artistic recognition Wilfred received to this generations flavor of Light Artists? If so, is this a result of the materialistic societies we live in today that continue to favor objet d’art over the intangible characteristics of projected light? Possibly, but there are some exceptions that challenge this line of thought. Toxi + Universal Everthing’s recent installation Forever at the Victoria & Albert Museum (video: 10) is a wonderful modern day example that gives me hope.