Louise Lessél Brings Metaphors Into Reality Through Programming

Artist Louise Lessél creates interactive experiences and turns the audience into participants in her latest projects, including Cosmic Harp, The Wave and The Black Queen.

Mansee Khurana, Anna (Fin) Muratova

The Cosmic Harp (developed in 2019)

“The Cosmic Harp” aims to bring greater visibility to the undetectable aspects of human pollution via a harp with strings that are visible only when smoke or hands pass through them. The harp’s “strings,” which are actually lasers, serve as a metaphor for the man-made trash in space. Currently, 12,297 of the 19,685 satellites in Earth’s orbit are considered space debris, a fact that the piece attempts to highlight through its newest addition: sound. 

Every 15 seconds, the sound is updated based on a satellite position dataset. The sound distorts based on the ratio of active satellites to inactive satellites that are considered debris. The shape of the harp itself is based off the Armillary sphere, which was used in the 16th century to track celestial bodies. With its smoke detection and sound design components, “The Cosmic Harp” tracks something in space that doesn’t belong there — the floating pieces of trash that drift beside the ancient celestial bodies. 

Louise Lessél’s “The Cosmic Harp” represents the invisible space debris which is polluting Earth’s orbit. The harp’s strings become visible if interacting with smoke or hands. (Courtesy of Louise Lessél)

The Black Queen (premiered in September 2018)

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Despite what it sounds like, The Black Queen isn’t a physical being. It’s a program brought to life by a team of artists. The Black Queen’s purpose is to assist with live theater performances as a computer-operated actor engaging with real-life actors. 

According to its website, “the medieval queen Barbora of Celje was a powerful and intelligent ruler, whose life was rewritten as an evil myth.” Within The Black Queen simulation, Barbora has to face the darkness and get her life back, as explained in the video presentation of the project. 

Black dots, splatter and particles on the floor follow the human actors around the stage, programmed to react to the decisions and movements. Trigger-points resembling windows with frost patterns on them move the play along, alter the plot and prompt certain events. This provides the real-life actors with full control over the timing of their performance. The actors can cause the particles to move by, for example, pantomiming and “pushing” them with their hands. 

The project traveled from Miami, where it premiered at the Prometeo Theater in September 2019, to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Louise Lessél’s “The Black Queen” serves as the embodiment of the evil myths surrounding queen Barbora. It’s a digital and computer-operated actor capable of interacting with an actress, who plays queen Barbora in her battle for her reputation and honor. The darkness is represented by particles following the actress and glass screens serve as triggers for various events to move the play along. (Courtesy of Louise Lessél)

The Wave (installations from February to March 2018)

Initially created by Vertigo, a Denmark-based company, The Wave was further developed by Lessel for its return to Ofelia Beach during the Copenhagen Light Festival. According to Vertigo’s website, they produce “digital experiences and audiovisual space transformations through interactive video scenography, laser visuals and custom LED light installations.” The Wave is the perfect demonstration of their company. 

The Wave is made up of 40 triangular gates big enough for visitors to walk through. All of the gates have a color, glow-style and sound assigned to them, which are triggered by the participants passing through. Once the sensors at the foot of each gate are activated, the audio-visual experience begins. 

The Wave puts participants in the center of its immersive experience. It incorporates three separate modes, known as landscapes: the futuristic, the retro white noise and the meditation, each meant to evoke different emotional responses in the audience. 

Louise Lessél’s “The Wave,” created in collaboration with Danish collective Vertigo, presents users with a walk through experience, turning the audience into a part of the installation. (Courtesy of Louise Lessél)

Email Mansee at [email protected]

Email Anna (Fin) at [email protected]

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