Though trained in architecture, first at Oxford Brookes University and then at University College London, Jason Bruges prefers not to commit himself to any one professional classification. His firm, Jason Bruges Studio, which he founded in 2001, works in the fertile ground that lies between the worlds of art, architecture, and media. Based in east London's hip Shoreditch neighborhood, the 16 members of his staff come from such diverse backgrounds as industrial and lighting design, film and television, information technology, and sculpture. For the past decade, Bruges and his team have made a name for themselves creating temporary and permanent site-specific installations with strong conceptual foundations and deft technical craftsmanship that respond to the world around them. Glowing, pulsing, changing color, the dynamism and life that these works bring to the built environment have been executed primarily with one brush: light.
“As part of my studies, I became interested in dynamic and changeable architecture,” Bruges explains. After school he spent four years working for Norman Foster, both in London and in Hong Kong. But the world of bricks and mortar, or rather of glass and steel, did little to hold his attention, and Bruges soon moved to a position at the experiential design company Imagination. “I worked as an interaction designer on the Millennium Dome in London and on other projects, such as the Guinness Experience in Dublin,” Bruges says. “Meanwhile, I started, in my free time, building time-based, site-specific installations that animated or changed space. The main palette I was using was light technology. I started to gain [a] reputation for making light art installations, and started getting lots of commissions … so I set up a studio.”
One of Bruges' very first installations, Four Seven Three, was commissioned by a cyber café in London. Completed in 2000, though since removed, this installation was composed of six floating LED light panels that used an infrared matrix to read the movement of customers. Controlled by a series of microprocessors, this data was then translated into lighting effects in the panels. The installation took its name from the light waves it emitted, 4-7-3 nanometers.
From these humble beginnings, Bruges and his team worked their way to larger public projects that showed the same innovative application of new technology and a growing mastery of metaphor. Leicester Lights (2006) is an intervention along a 1.5-kilometer carnival route between Leicester's cultural district and the Peepul Centre, a multipurpose event facility. Bruges and his team outfitted the street lamps with segmented light bands that read the passing traffic and record the color of the cars, forming a visual barcode on the light pole. Pixel Cloud (2007) is a chandelier of light globes suspended in the atrium of the Allen & Overy headquarters, a Foster + Partners–designed building in London. The globes are spaced in accord with the grid of the building's floor plates and columns. The color of each globe can be individually controlled, and each changes color in response to environmental data broadcast on the international law firm's worldwide network. Phosphor Field (2008) is a grouping of carbon-fiber masts topped by blue glowing spheres in Poole, Dorset, England. Wind blowing across the site causes the lights to sway and dance. Integrated within each sphere are energy harvesters, such as those used in watches, that generate electricity when shaken.
One of Bruges' most successful works to date is Mirror, Mirror (2009), which was displayed in the courtyard of London's Victoria & Albert Museum during the exhibition “Decode: Digital Design Sensations,” which ran from Dec. 8, 2009 to April 11. The exhibition was about digital culture and Bruges took this idea and wove it through his artistic mainstays—interactivity and site specificity. “The [museum] courtyard has this shallow elliptical pond that has amazing reflections,” Bruges says. “My first thought was [to ask], ‘How do people respond to their reflection?' I looked to the legend of Narcissus [as a reference], and asked, ‘What is a reflective surface in [an] age of technology where we are able to capture our reflections in many ways?'” Bruges outfitted the pond with 60 acrylic plinths, each equipped with white LED dot matrices and cameras. As museumgoers approached, their images were broadcast back to them and reflected on the pool water, just as one's image can be multiplied on the Internet through social networking sites, Bruges observes.
While thought-provoking social commentary such as that motivating Mirror, Mirror fuels Bruges' work, the studio is also strongly involved in hands-on craft and can be credited with a few technological innovations. “We do a lot of prototyping ourselves,” Bruges says. “We test and program everything before approaching the manufacturers. That's very much built into our philosophy.” One such innovation has recently become a marketable product: the Flatliner Lamp. Released by London-based design outlet Established & Sons, the luminaire is built from the low-profile LED matrices that Bruges has been working into materials for years. Flat, black, and “stealth-like,” the lamp has been imbued with the studio's trademark inter activity in the form of a touch-sensitive ring around its edge that turns it on and off, and provides a dimming function. The Flatliner comes in floor, table, and pendant varieties.
Though certainly well established, Bruges' star seems to be ascending. He has worked primarily in the United Kingdom and Europe, with a few stints in the United States, including the installation Visual Echoes (2007) at the Center for Architecture in New York City and Focal Shift (2009), a collaboration with Jake Dyson for the 2009 International Contemporary Furniture Fair, also in New York. And his popularity is growing on this side of the pond. Bruges is currently completing an installation for Toronto's York Spadina subway line extension, and, rumor tells, is involved in a project at a university in Oregon. He is also doing a project for the 2012 Olympic Park in London, a series of artwork that will emit sounds and vibrations based on the records set by athletes at the games. Wherever he applies his craft, however, it can be assumed that what was once mute will begin to communicate, and what was once dark will be awash with light.