Philip Ross about his project Gibson | GLOW special

In the studio of Philip Ross there is one hanging from the ceiling. A moving head, a super powerful stagelight that you often see at festivals. Ross upgraded the lamp with software and sensors, so that it responds to its surroundings, for example to someone passing by.

‘Ok', you might think while reading this. Because the sensation of this project is hard to capture in a story. You have to experience yourself what light beams with a sense of touch bring about. 'Wowww/huh?bizarre!/aaaah' is what it feels like the moment you meet Gibson. The beam of light seems to be making contact when you get close to it. With your hand you can tap the light away, as if you were playing with it. Sometimes the light returns and sticks to you. ‘Hey light', you will think after a while, 'go and do something else!’

The fact that light arouses emotions, and in this case even leads to interaction, is what fascinates Philip Ross. Light does something with people, but Gibson also makes people do something with light. This light artwork, in the category New Light, is inspired by the work of J.J. Gibson, a psychologist who stated that the perception of man is more than just a registration of things that exist. He introduced the concept of affordances, which is about the 'invitations' to action that the world gives you. If you see a staircase, then you probably also experience an 'invitation' to walk on it, unless you have difficulty walking, then it is more likely labelled as an obstacle. Ross tells us that Gibson had a radically different view of how man perceives his environment. Where brains were often compared to a computer, he regarded perception as an active action. Something you do with all your senses and your whole body. ‘And that evokes different emotions per person', Ross adds.

"You have to experience yourself what light beams with a sense of touch bring about"

Philip Ross

The physical element of perceiving, feeling, grasping or moving in a space, is sometimes lost with the use of technological products. Your smartphone enables more and more actions with just a few taps, from dialing a phone number to turning on your lights. ‘This means that a lot of our skills are not used. Compared to what we are able to, it is actually very poor.’

You may know Philip Ross from his Fonckel, the LED luminaire you can control when touching it. He studied industrial design at Delft University of Technology and later obtained his PhD in Eindhoven. From his studio at TAC he works as a light artist and designer. This year he was approached by GLOW to create a project. Besides international artists, the organization wants to show the 'Eindhoven signature': projects in which creativity and technology come together in an exciting way.

Gibson is a work of light art in the first place, but as with much of Ross' work, there is also a research side to it. His installation last year at the Student Hotel was about how people react to light. Do they walk more to the left or more to the right when the lights are brighter on one side? One week's observations during GLOW yielded good scientific results that can be of significance in crowd management. This year he is curious about the emotions that Gibson evokes. Together with the Intelligent Lighting Institute he will explore the subject. What happens if you give light beams a sense of touch and they can feel the surfaces they light up? By moving, the light beams scan their surroundings and react to what they encounter. What does that do to the audience? The interactions are amplified by the sound of sound designer Joep le Blanc.

After finishing this interview Ross will start building the installation next to the City Hall. Gibson will be seven by seventy metres with a total of twenty moving heads, together they will form a long light tunnel. Although most of the work will probably be done behind his laptop in the coming days, working on algorithms that will allow the beams of light to play with the visitors of GLOW.