Umbrellium's new installation, "Assemblance," at the Barbican Centre's Digital Revolution, lets visitors sculpt and shapes beams of lasers.
Down, down I went into the pit of London's Barbican Centre. Down a few flights of stairs, past the helpful staff who pointed me in the right direction. Greeted by spooky sci-fi sounds and pools of laser light scanning the darkness, I stepped down a pitch black corridor and into a dark room where, surrounded by pools of light, immersed in a mixture of awe and confusion, groups of people swatted at columns of lasers, hugged them, and held their hands up to the showers of light. This is Assemblance, Umbrellium's installation for the Digital Revolution exhibition—an arts-tech survey that also includes work from longtime friends of The Creators Project like Chris Milk.
Umbrellium— the participatory exhibition studio comprised of Andrew Caleya Chetty, Usman Haque, Moeen Khawaja, and Nitipak ‘Dot’ Samsen— usually build vast outdoor spectacles in public spaces. This time, they've brought the interactivity inside; using custom Kinect setups in the spaces above visitors' heads to track movements, visitors can interact with lasers, shape them, "push" them, and collaborate with strangers to manipulate the real-time controlled beams of light.
"You can basically draw and sculpt with light," founding partner Usman Haque told The Creators Project. "We wanted to do something working with light as a solid material and try to structure participation around people building environments together."
Formally trained as an architect, Haque says the company is interested in the ways in which people relate to each other through the spaces around them. "We’re looking to encourage social interaction, for strangers to start experimenting together," says Haque, about this particular piece. "One of the themes in our work is, how do you get people to become players on a stage where they are the architects? Their contribution, their performance is what we’re trying to elicit. It’s something that’s about discovery, unpeeling things and wanting to try and make sense of something. You have to spend a little time learning it. The lasers are quite delicate but you can team up, hold hands and make a ring, and create more robust structures."
If you're in London and unafraid of greeting strangers in dark places, the exhibition is entirely worth your time. Descend a few storeys into the Pit Theatre, and go hang out in the pitch-black with some reactive lasers.
Photo credit: Matthew G Lloyd. Getty Images