For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, Ross Manning continued his exploration of light and the aesthetic potential of additive colour mixing, in a new kinetic light sculpture that illuminated the halls of the Industrial Precinct on Cockatoo Island. A further iteration of his ongoing ‘Spectra’ series, Spectra IV (2014) consists of fluorescent lamps suspended at varying points of balance. At the end of each tube a small household fan oscillates at a regular speed so that each light turns on an independent orbit, as if the sculpture has an agency of its own.
Sound and light are integral elements of Manning’s practice. Working with optics, projection, light, sound and everyday objects such as fluorescent tubes, fans, string and brown paper, the artist repurposes broken electronic equipment, reusing components to create kinetic sculptures and atmospheric installations. Through his work, the artist examines concepts such as our relationship with technology, the rapidity with which gadgets become obsolete, and the nature of light and the fundamental role it plays in human perception.
Manning’s practice falls into the historical canon of assemblage art, combining unrelated elements and materials to create syncopated compositions. With his use of commercially sourced fluorescent tubes and his interest in kinetic sculpture, he is a hybrid protégé of minimalist Dan Flavin and mobile-maker Alexander Calder. Yet Manning is, above all, an inventor. Beginning with an interest in the mechanisms of technology, he applies theory from the disciplines of science, art and music to create spatial interventions that are at once tangible and sublime.
Manning has a background in instrument building and sound sculpture, forming the duo Faber Castell with Alan Nguyen in 2002 and performing at sonic art festivals with the band Sky Needle. A long-held interest in avant-garde music and sound led to his construction of self-playing sculptural instruments, alongside which Manning would also perform live. While working as a television repairman, he extended his interest in technology and electronics further into the realm of light, becoming interested in the aesthetic potential of additive colour mixing and the RGB colour model that forms the basis for the construction of digital images.
In Sad Majick (2009), Manning deconstructed a number of data projectors, removing the internal prisms and building a mechanical device powered by wind that directed a beam of white light at the crystals. When the work was activated, luminous rays of pure colour flickered and danced across the darkened space at random, accompanied by an improvised electronic music performance.
Manning’s ‘Spectra’ series is an ongoing exploration of light in the form of hanging mobile works that consist of suspended beams, each incorporating a fluorescent tube and a small fan. As the fan oscillates it causes the beam to revolve, resulting in a kinetic light sculpture that gently illuminates the surrounding environment. Manning initially used red, green and blue fluorescent tubes, creating a mobile that mixed additive colours in a real environment, but he has since moved on to use secondary colours to create atmospheric washes that gradually undulate throughout the exhibition space.
Manning has been the subject of several solo exhibitions, including ‘Volumes’, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (2013); ‘Spectra’, Milani Gallery, Brisbane (2012); ‘Field Emissions’, Starkwhite, Auckland (2012); and ‘3 Songs’, MONA FOMA at Long Gallery, Hobart (2010). He has also participated in a number of group exhibitions, among them ‘Foundation’s Edge: Artists and Technology’, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane (2013); ‘NEW12’, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2012); ‘Volume One’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2012); ‘Batteries Not Included’, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney (2009); and ‘Sunshine and Zincaloom’, Ptarmigan, Helsinki (2009).