Inside Jordan Soderberg Mills' work–An age of Light, Curiosity and Scientific Inquiry
By Purva Chawla
From the moment I first saw Jordan Söderberg Mills’ work–some of it photographed in stark, and industrial settings–I felt as though it owned and focussed every inch of space around it. And by that I mean, no matter how large the space surrounding or fronting his beautiful works, or what the size of these pieces, they fill up the space, and seem to become the heart of light and energy in the room.
It is possible that I may never fully understand how the many material components and mechanisms come together in Söderberg Mills’ creations; how light is fragmented, striated and reassembled in his metal and glass compositions, and perhaps that is part of their immense charm. What I do know, is that they are reflective, refractive, luminous, vibrant, possess a mysterious amount of depth, and seem mind-boggling at times.
Söderberg Mills' work thrives in these moves–twisting and challenging perception, by playing with physics and the mechanics of vision. Looking at an upright mirror (from his Anaglyphs collection), or a resting parabolic structure (from his Parabola collection), I find myself torn between child-like fascination, and a nagging desire to figure out just what it is I am seeing.
That sensation is exactly what Söderberg Mills hopes to create and give back to society through his work. His work aims to trigger a sense of curiosity and enable the viewer to experience the joy of discovery–of scientific inquiry. He says “Curiosity is a superpower. It is the driving force for many physicists, artists, engineers, poets–creators and innovators of all kind. I set out to make objects that awaken this, and hopefully inspire people to see science as hugely exciting. I can only hope that my work creates this kind of impact.”
In this way, Söderberg Mills’s interpretation of the ‘Age of Man’ is an age of reason and scientific inquiry. His rich and interdisciplinary background–having worked in installation, sculpture, and design, and pursued an interest in science–feeds into his investigation of ideas and materials. Also crucial to the sensorial and impactful experience of his work is a romantic interest in light and its role in shaping our perceptual world.
Söderberg Mills builds objects that focus light, volume, wavelength, and color–as a bridge between the perceptual self and the objective universe. Naturally then, Glass, a material amenable to the transformation of light, becomes his primary material medium, along with Iron, a metal with a cosmological atmosphere to it.
For Form&Seek’s ‘Age of Man’ exhibit at Milan Design Week this year, Söderberg Mills will be showing Anaglyphs– a series of mirrors that bend, unweave and rebuild light. “They play with our understanding of color, and visual perception, and create seemingly digital filters on the real world. I’ve been calling them Anaglyphs, paying homage to early optical experiments, trying to create three-dimensional images with color and visual perception” he says.
Learn more about Jordan Söderberg Mills' practice, motivations, and material experimentation, by reading our recent interview with him, ahead of the 'Age of Man' exhibit in Milan.
MD: How does Anaglyphs relate to your work as a whole? And what drives your practice?
JSM: I’m really motivated by a curiosity about the natural world and our place in it–how things like light, sound, matter and energy all interact with our senses. We are given this rare gift of observation–to witness a sometimes ordered, at times chaotic universe–and I want to play in the border between what exists around us and how we interpret it.
My educational background is a combination of sculpture, art history, and design, with a keen interest in science–and aspects of these disciplines set out to understand materials on a fundamental level.
I have always had a romantic interest in light–It is the standard by which we measure the universe; The fastest thing in it; It is the first thing mentioned in many holy books, and artists have been trying to capture it in their own manner for millennia. Chiaroscuro, Gothic architecture, photography–they are all about capturing light. My work is my own way of doing so. These mirrors are the latest outcomes from this project.
MD: The concept of the ‘Age of Man’ captures our relationship with the environment and our age. How does this theme embody itself in your work?
JSM: We all relate to light on a visceral, primal level. The joy of feeling the sun on your face, gazing at the stars and feeling tiny, and moonlit walks on the beach. On the other hand, we often talk about our feelings in terms of colors.
Light is not only charged with emotion but is also, for many, a bridge to the universe around us. For the sighted, our perceptual worlds are constructed with light. It is a fascinating medium that I think permeates everything and is a fertile ground to explore.
In one sense, my work is about, facing the unknown, and better understanding the world around us. I try to focus on the infinite possibilities in the materials I work with. Hopefully, in this process, I can discover something that does more than creating an aesthetic experience, but at the moment, to me, that is enough.
MD: What are the chief materials and techniques you employ in your work?
JSM: I approach light as a raw material. In some ways, it behaves like music, with colors as pitches; and what I try to do, is reveal “chords,” or harmonies and proportions that exist intrinsically within the light.
I continually return to glass as a material, as it manipulates light exquisitely, has mysterious quantum properties, and sends shivers down the spine of my insurance company.
MD: Tell us a little about your material experimentation–materials that you like to explore and work with, and those that you have built a relationship with over time.
JSM: I have a background in blacksmithing and steelwork, so I continually return to iron as a base for the objects I make. All iron in the universe was forged in the fires of Supernova or enormous stars–so it has this cosmological atmosphere around it that I find fascinating.
I use electricity and fire to form and finish the iron, which, in some sense gives it back these tremendous energies. When you work with steel, you’re dealing with extreme heat, controlled lightning bolts, sparks and flame–you can’t help but feel a little magical, a little powerful. At the same time, the Iron is neutral, it’s a shadow, and it complements and offsets my work in glass and light very well.
In the most magical (and yet scientific of perspectives), we’re all made of stardust; light is a bridge between you and the universe, and Steel comes from exploding stars.
MD: What reaction to your work are you anticipating, and hoping for in Milan?
JSM: I once had a few young kids come to my show in Toronto, leap in front of my mirror, and proclaim, deadpan, that “this is how aliens see us.” It was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. I can only hope my work get this kind of reaction again.
MD: Tell us about your involvement with Form&Seek and how you feel about this unique collective of designers.
JSM: This is a huge honor for me–I’ve admired many of the creatives in Form&Seek for years–they have not only been creating beautiful objects, but ones that are well-considered, and charged with thought and narrative. I’m so grateful to have been asked to exhibit my work along with these superheroes.