Laura Johnston, artist in residence at Durham University, on transforming spaces through light
Our Directory Maker of the Week, Laura Johnston, talks to us about getting into making, what inspires her and her favourite part of the making process
Who or what got you into making?
From a young age I was always interested in drawing and painting and was encouraged by my Mum and at primary school, where I remember creating paintings for school assembly and winning a bike in a national drawing competition!
We had a fabulous art department at Hustler Comprehensive School in Middlesbrough with the opportunity to study art in many forms including ceramics, photography, printing, drawing and painting. I spent most of my time there, outside of lessons, and we had fantastic teachers. We went on a week away to Stainsacre, near Whitby, with our art teachers and had an amazing time working directly with the landscape, exploring and making all kinds of installations. This really got me very excited about art, craft and materials.
Tell us a bit about your work?
Whilst studying 3D Design in Sunderland, I specialised in architectural glass and became fascinated by the way glass could be used to alter the fall of light within architecture. I worked with materials technologists, exploring coatings on glass to heighten reflective qualities and went on to complete a PhD in 1997 examining these techniques further.
I was commissioned by the National Glass Centre in 1998 and created the UK’s first dichroic glass sculpture, suspended from the roof beams of the Centre. Entitled ‘Shoal’ and inspired by the amazing forms created by the movement of fish, the sculpture transformed the interior, projecting and everchanging play of light projected deep into the building. I have continued to work as a public artist since then and aim to transform our experience of spaces through the modulation of light and the creation of inspiring forms.
What are your inspirations?
The natural world is my main source of inspiration although I am also inspired by industrial landscape. I use a camera a lot to capture images of the exciting structures that I see around me and have been inspired by the beauty revealed by electron microscope images of microscopic forms. Light is of great inspiration and I am obsessed with the sky! Exhibitions exploring the themes of light, materials and sensation are of particular interest to me.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
I love the process of developing ideas and I often work on a small scale, creating concept models in which I explore materials and their light refracting properties. I have developed model making techniques and have also worked with silversmiths to acquire new making skills which enable me to create small scale versions of large sculptural installations. This making process enables the exploration of ideas and then the creation of presentation models which help commissioners to envisage how the full scale proposals would operate and respond to light.
What are you working on right now?
Last year I received an Arts Council grant and began an exciting project entitled En’Light’en: an exploration of light and sensation. Working with biomedical scientists at Durham University, the aim of the project is to explore ways in which light can change how we feel and improve general wellbeing. I am in the process of creating a series of temporary installations in a range of places - including healthcare settings - that alter the atmosphere of the space by changing the light. Experience of the installations is being evaluated and I hope to learn more about the beneficial effects of such work.
In January I was appointed Artist in Residence at Durham University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The residency is providing a valuable opportunity to carry out experimental work, away from commissioned projects, and this exciting work will inform my future practice.