Date published: 23/05/2017

Tom Mùller and Ariane Palassis (Agency 296), were commissioned to deliver the site-specific artwork, “Optical Paths”, for the Curtin University Building 304 Science Research Facility.

The artwork is inspired by Isaak Newton’s seminal published work Optiks (1704), which analyses the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses. The artists also chose to use the golden ratio proportions for the dimension of the glass sheets. The artwork is passively kinetic, seeming to reveal itself as one moves through the building.

The design brief allowed for composition of various elements, rather than a fixed object, allowing the possibility of the artwork extending out through the foyer of the new research building or up to its ceiling. The monumental tasks researchers face of finding their way through the maze of hypotheses and evidence was an opportunity for the artists to express these important explorations and take close inspiration. The choice of glass is also very strongly tied to the importance of this material to science, from its use in lenses and fibre optics, to the utilisation of its non-volatile quality. By utilising dichroic film applied to toughened glass, a vibrant shifting colour spectrum becomes visible to the naked eye. The artists added a new layer of reading and meaning to Newton’s colour theory, by ‘moving beyond the prism’, with an ever changing colour spectrum that can be experienced through one, or more of the glazed surfaces bearing the dichroic film. The artwork entices the viewer through its enigmatic, scientific qualities related to colour and light. Additionally, the work heavily relies on coloured shadow casting, providing added depth within the architectural volume.

As artists responding to architectural spaces, the team believed it vital to integrate key design aspects of the building with the artistic interpretation. The window cutouts of both fascias represent the departure point out of which the artwork was developed. The creative metamorphosis evolves through a progression of shapes and arrangements, and finally resolves as coloured shadows reflect inside the space. This approach not only pertains to a formal deconstruction of the idea, but also provides the leading theme of paths – gateways and portals. A truly scientific view allows for many layers to reveal themselves as one probes deeper into the meaning and the make-up of our world. The internal treatments, such as the central staircase, have closely been considered and are echoed in the line arrangement of the steel frames and the configuration of the glass panels with their coloured shadows. The design of the steel frame has also been designed to work within the dimensions of the glazed balustrades, with the fixings of the pieces’ structure being able to adapt to the architectural design and detailing.

Agency 296 (A296) is an art and design bureau with a practice that combines a broad range of disciplines including sculpture, installation, light, design, and architecture. Based in Perth, A296 was founded in 2015 by Tom Mùller. The Artsource Art Consultants develop small to large-scale art projects by engaging artists across a range of mediums to create temporary or permanent artworks that enliven exterior or interior spaces. Matching project goals with artwork of the highest calibre, Artsource ensures outcomes reflect client values and aspirations.

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