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Studio practice
(Phase two)

The Touch the Light workshops comprised a combination of art installations and performance workshops, engaging participants from diverse fields such as jewellery, architecture, and the performance arts, including students and researchers. A variety of light-reflective materials, such as fabrics, tapes, plastic loops, mirrors, craft papers, and recycled fluorescent-coloured materials, were utilised to construct an array of artefacts. The initial two workshops in phase two (Touch the Light pilot project and Touch the Light workshop I) were designed to encourage audience participants' interaction with objects and contribution to the creative process.

The workshops were set up with two aims in mind. First, they aimed to explore the potential of light as a sensory and interactive medium to stimulate the relationship between jewellery, the body, and space, and to understand how the body can actively engage in this process. Secondly, they aimed to enhance the awareness of multisensory experiences through the physical interaction with the installation and material components. The workshops were set up at a range of locations, including the Shell Gallery, the Parkside Building of Birmingham City University, the School of Jewellery, and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. The selection of different locations was an adaptation in response to the impact of COVID-19 on my studio practice. Touch the Light projects started from a pilot project that used art installations and audience participation to approach and explore the interactive relationship between light-reflective materials, the body, and space. Thereafter, it evolved into collaborative projects with dancers, performers, and musicians. In the following section, we will discuss the preliminary phase of the Touch the Light installation as a pilot project.

Touch the light pilot project
(Audience participation)

I invited a small group of audience members to enter the installation space. There were no specific instructions about how the audience members should interact with the installation or what to expect after entering the space. The audience participants were encouraged to experiment with the materials, the installation structure, and the space. The plastic rings were placed in different parts and at various heights of the installation; some were attached through the ribbons and hung in the middle of the structure, while others were left on the floor. All of them were easily reachable by the audience participants. The whole session lasted around 30 minutes.

Touch the Light pilot project (2019). Art installation. Audience participation.The Shell Gallery, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University. Fluorescent fabrics.

Touch the Light workshop I

I conducted Touch the Light workshop I, which was a one-day workshop at the Shell Gallery at Birmingham City University on the 5th of February 2020. There were six participants, students from BCU's architecture BA programme, involved in this research activity. This workshop evolved from the Touch the Light pilot project, using a form of installation to explore the relationship between wearable objects, the body, and space through engaging UV light. By working with the audience participants, I aimed to develop an initial understanding of the relationship between wearable objects, the body, and space through a cross-disciplinary approach. It also facilitated my further understanding of the collaborative nature of this artistic research. Moreover, this workshop aimed to experiment with different types of UV-reactive materials, including fluorescent nylons, neon cords, ribbons, etc. Some of the materials were recycled from the previous workshop, and the rest, such as UV-reflective nylon and thread, were the materials I used for making small-scale pieces of jewellery.

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Touch the Light workshop I project (2020). Art installation. Participants tested the UV-reactive materials with a portable UV torch. Fluorescent nylon.

Touch the Light workshop II
(Dancer participation)

Due to the COVID-19 situation in the UK, I was unable to access studio facilities such as the theatre space at the Shell Gallery or RBC Conservatoire from March 2020 to November 2022. This situation led to a pause in conducting workshops or installations involving audience participation. To continue practical work and further investigate the relationship between UV-reactive materials, the body, and space, I had to adjust my research plan for this studio practice project. I decided to collaborate with a small group of participants, including one dancer and two performers, to conduct a three-day workshop.

After exploring various options to find an alternative space for my artistic research, I obtained approval to use the exhibition hall at the School of Jewellery. Following the university's COVID-19 health and safety regulations for on-campus research activities, I initiated Touch the Light workshop II in November 2020. This workshop was built upon my previous installation works, including the Touch the Light pilot project and Touch the Light workshop I.

 

The research activities spanned three days, involving:

  • Solo performances with the installation on Day 1

  • Group performances on Day 2

  • The creation of bodily wearable objects on Day 3

Solo performance - Day 1

After setting up the installation, I invited the dancer to enter the installation space and start her explorative performance. At first, the dancer carefully entered the installation area, but after familiarising herself with the material and space, she spontaneously explored the installation structure with her head, feet, and arms, and then extended to her whole body. She gingerly entered the space between the glowing ribbons, as if she didn't want to touch any glowing lines in this dark space.

Following the dancer’s movement in the installation area, the entire piece of the work moved with the sway of the dancer’s body and emerged into a range of patterns and forms. Since all the materials were not fixed to the ceiling frameworks, all the ribbons could be pulled and adjusted freely by the dancer. After the performance, the dancer described how she imagined herself as a bug trapped in a 'spider’s web' during her performance. This web was like her playground, and she enjoyed her body being trapped in this web and also being able to reconstruct the web through her performance. In this context, the overall presentation of the dancer’s performance can be seen as a re-interpretation of the interactive installation. The dancer communicated her embodied bodily experience through an explorative body movement in the installation by improvising interpretations of light, UV-reactive materials, and space on the spot. Her performance triggered the installation and brought it to life.

Touch the Light workshop II (2020). The dancer exploring the installation work. School of Jewellery, Birmingham City University.

Group performance - Day 2

The workshop on day 2 focused on examining the interactive relationship between UV-reactive materials, the body, and space through collaborative work with performers. I worked with three performers and evolved the Touch the Light II installation piece into a performative installation by adopting performance-making approaches. Since the performers came from acting, opera, and dance choreography backgrounds, they suggested that it would be helpful if they could integrate a simple story into their performance. They argued that this would make their performance more structured and interrelated.

During the discussion on how to integrate the installation into a group performance, I shared my initial inspiration for the Touch the Light installation series, derived from the sea creatures-inspired jewellery collection Go with the Glow. The darkness, the fluorescent materials, and the immersive environment also inspired the performers to imagine a secret world underwater or beneath the ground.

Based on a preliminary conversation between myself and the performers, as well as their understanding of the UV-reactive installations, the performers decided to take on roles as 'creatures' fighting for 'territorial' space. The performance still revolved around the performers' spontaneous interactions with UV-reactive materials, light, and space, but now it had the added twist of a storyline that could create dramatic tension. 

Touch the Light Workshop II (2020). Group performance by three dancers. The art installation is created and designed by Wanshu Li. Fluorescent fabrics. School of Jewellery, Birmingham City University.

Wearable objects - Day 3

The workshop on day 3 aimed to further examine the bodily wearable objects that were developed in coordination with the performative installations. Some of these wearable objects were used as part of the installation scenery and as performative objects in the workshop on day 2. The others were developed on day 3 through collaborative work with the dancer. The decision to run workshop day 3 and develop wearable objects stemmed from my observation of how the performers spontaneously interpreted the installation work, generating a range of emergent and ever-changing visual art forms that bridged installation art, wearable art, and performance art. For example, some visual presentations of the installation work can be perceived as pieces of costume due to how the performers manipulated the materials. The performers' dynamic interpretations through physical interactions with the UV-reactive materials motivated me to further explore the relationships between wearable objects, light, the body, and space through additional collaborations with a dance student.

 The Ice Cube Necklace (2020). Performed by Jingya Peng. Designed and created by Wanshu Li. Recycled plastic packing boxes, a fluorescent green cord, 4.5 metres. School of Jewellery. 

The 'Dancing Jellyfish' was a piece that I worked on together with the dancer. The 'jellyfish' was made of neon-coloured ribbons, all attached to a red hula hoop ring. To make it look more like a jellyfish, the dancer suggested adding some decorations to the ends of the ribbons so that both the work and her performance would be more visible in the dark. Therefore, I decorated the ends with fluorescent green fabric. These little green dots were bright and lively, following the dancer's body and moving as her body moved. Sometimes, the dancer's body would 'disappear' into the darkness, leaving the jellyfish alone to 'dance' in the sea

The Dancing Jellyfish (2020). Performed by Jingya Peng. Designed by Wanshu Li. Fluorescent fabric trips, a hula loop wrapped in orange fabric School of Jewellery.

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