Article by Lauren MacFarland
It’s a goal of any artist and Stuart Ward has managed to achieve it: to create something truly original.
Based in Vancouver, Stuart is the head of Hfour, a design company which pushes the boundaries of art as an immersive medium, bringing his installations out of the confines of galleries and into public venues, making his work more accessible and interactive, and introducing the public to art they might never have discovered. It’s a fine balance to strike, to create innovation while keeping it approachable, as he explains, “if it goes so far that you need to have a large explanation to understand it, then maybe the visual communication is missing something.” Public art which is funded by taxpayers should especially be something that can be appreciated by anyone of any age. “I don’t think there’s going to be a great big cultural shift, but if one person who doesn’t want to go to the art gallery has an interesting art experience…they might wonder what there might be in the world.”
This year, Stuart’s work ranges from a light installation at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to working with performance artists, merging the physical beauty of dance with projection mapping technology that turns the sky into a stage. But perhaps the most exciting project Stuart has in development is ‘Divine Lights’, a stunning mix of craftsmanship and video art that comes together to create art pieces that are both state-of-the-art and a callback to the stained glass masterpieces of centuries before. It starts with projection mapping technology, the projection of video onto a solid piece, but Stuart takes it one step further, displaying video on LCD screens behind an overlay. The video displayed corresponds to the lattice, and the result is a modern day stained glass window, only with so many more creative possibilities.
The idea came two years ago, when Stuart worked with projecting images on high relief sculptures. Problems arose with the viability of having pieces that were so easy to move out of focus in homes or office spaces. From that point forward, he focused on creating more lasting pieces. “The problem wasn’t the materials, the problem was the projector. If I sold and calibrated the piece, I’d have to recalibrate it if it moved even a little. The projector was physically separate from the art object and we said: ‘Why do we have to use a projector. Why can’t we use a television?’”
Inspiration came from the beautiful geometric lattices commonly found in mosques, often carved entirely out of stone. “I feel like I’m not even making art when I think about the technical ability of sculptors doing something like that!” The craftsmanship of making something with wood was discovered to be a creatively satisfying experience, and gave them the aesthetic they were looking for. “We basically made what would maybe be called 21st century stained glass, video art on lattice.”
Stuart is constantly working to explore new boundaries, and after developing the first prototypes of these lattice pieces, he concentrated on the video art that would accompany them. What started out as colour field evolved into vertical video that matches the lattice overlay and can be changed to fit the theme of the piece. His newer displays have everything from glimpses of space to the simple beauty of nature, all of it coming together to tell a story.
It’s understandably exciting to be at the forefront of this kind of innovation, and so far it looks like Stuart is leading the way in this impressive new medium. “We were kind of surprised that we think we’re the first people to be doing this. I’m shocked that we might be first – or at the very least, I haven’t gotten the inspiration from any one art form that looks the same. It’s inspired by windows and geometric lattices and I haven’t seen anything that’s the contemporary equivalent to this. It’s possible I’m first and that’s kind of cool because it’s making something really new. I’ve spent my whole life looking for something new and never finding it because it feels like everything’s been done before but somehow I guess we did something new!”
So far, the pieces have featured in a few installations, and already the demand is emerging for larger and more impressive pieces. Interior Design is the field that holds a lot of interest for Stuart’s work, entire walls of lobbies could one day be covered with his work, using multiple screens to create a wall-to-wall display. Whether or not that’s going to be a reality anytime soon remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it looks like his pieces and his vision are going to be gracing the walls of public spaces in the near future and, hopefully, for a long time.