Collapsing the wall that separates technology and nature through artistic practice with Aphra Shemza

Interdisciplinary artist Aphra Shemza uses her unique artistic vision combined with her impressive skills in electronic systems to create striking work that directly engages with her audience. Interactivity being an important element in Shemza’s work, her sculptures often utilize LED lights that change colour and react according to the position of the viewer. Her distinct aesthetic that mixes together light, technology and installation is pushed even further as some of her pieces include elements of sound, developing another opportunity for her audience to become immersed with her work on another level. Shemza’s practice seeps into every part of her life, as she also spearheads FLUX, an artist-networking group aiming to foster collaboration and creative dialogue. In her interview, Shemza explains the importance of collapsing the wall that separates technology and nature through artistic practice. Join us as we discuss with the artist the role of technology in today’s society and how it informs and inspires her work.

AMM: When did your journey as an artist begin? What sparked your interest in using technology as a part of your artistic practice?

AS: I have always had this inherent need to create and so have been making art my whole life. As I got older I carried on with this interest throughout my education. In 2012 I graduated from my Fine Art BA and since then have been pursuing an artistic career; making work, exhibiting, creating bespoke commissions for private clients and brands and more recently speaking about my practice and teaching.

The inspiration for the aesthetic content in my work, comes from modernist paintings and sculpture, minimalism, suprematism and kinetic work. I felt however that in this technological age with all of these new medias to explore, that there was something missing for me and so began to experiment.

As a society, we know, we are deeply immersed in image on a day-to-day basis, we passively receive our visual information without a second thought. I wanted to create a visual language that is set aside from this, that stands out, that secures the audience’s attention and asks them to actively take part in the piece. And so I began to work with technology.

AMM: Many of your sculptures utilize intricate electronic systems that would take a special skillset to create. Where did you learn how to create such fascinating forms, merging technology and visual aesthetics?

AS: I learnt most of my more traditional sculpture making at university in the workshop and we were lucky enough to have a sound art department were I learnt some basic electronics. However, it has been a long process to hone down these techniques to produce the work you see in my portfolio today and this has been mainly self-taught through experimenting and prototyping in the studio. Throughout my research I have drawn on the guidance of other makers and experts and this has helped me to broaden my knowledge about these techniques.

AMM: What materials do you use the most when creating your unique sculptures? Have you ever run into difficulty when using such complex materials?

AS: I use a wide range of materials to create my work such as; wood, metal, plastic, resin and many more. As long as the making process involves prototyping you can iron out most issues in the initial stages. However, the real challenge is how to integrate the circuits seamlessly so that the materials I use and the electronics work together in harmony; this takes time and can be costly.

AMM: Heart Beats of Cristal and Composition X both include interactive elements where LED lights react according to the viewers’ proximity to the sculpture. Can you describe the integral role interactivity has in your artwork?

AS: Interactivity allows the viewer to actively take part in the piece. As an artist I strive to communicate my concepts to my audience and using interactive devices is the perfect way to place the viewer within this dialogue and allow them the space and time to explore. What excites me the most about creating interactive work is its accessibility, that anyone no matter what their education, age or background, can still take something from the piece.

AMM: You mention that your Composition series is inspired by Kepler’s Platonic Universe. Can you elaborate on this reference? What about this concept continues to intrigue you?

AS: Johannes Kepler (1531-1650) was a German mathematician and astrologer who created a model entitled the Mysterium Cosmographicum, which was a model of the solar system using the Platonic solids. The Composition series takes inspiration from this model, using the platonic solids and visual illusion, it draws the viewer into the work. The use of this geometry is the reduction of the forms that are present within all life and highlights our connection to one another and the universe as a whole.

AMM: Your most recent piece Post-Truth and Beauty is an interactive installation that includes components of light and sound. What inspired you to include sound in this piece?

AS: I have been working a lot recently with sound reactive works and so creating a piece which plays its own sound has been very interesting for me. Post-Truth and Beauty was a collaboration with the artist Tim Murray-Browne (http://timmb.com/) and the sound aspect of the piece is very much part of Tim’s practice already. It was a wonderful experience to collaborate with him and fuse my visual aesthetics with his three-dimensional sound-scape. The piece was commissioned by Morley College Gallery as part of the Engine Room: International Sound Art Exhibition so creating a piece with sound was integral. Using both sound and light together really helped to relay the piece’s concept to our audience.

AMM: On your website, you mention that your sculptures have an element of accessibility. Can you talk a bit about your thoughts on the importance of accessibility in art? How does this influence your artistic approach?

AS: Within my practice I work with many different concepts and aesthetics, but what is most important to me is that anyone without reading anything about my work, would be firstly drawn to the work by how it looks and secondly that they spend time with the work and explore it.

I design my work mostly with light and a bold and dynamic aesthetic in order to draw people to the piece and through using interactivity I hope to engage them in some form of a dialogue. The way in which a viewer will respond to the work is key to how I produce it, they are considered throughout the entire design process.

AMM: What aspect of your life would you say brings you the most inspiration for your work?

AS: My whole life feeds into my practice and I am immersed in my subject. I go to talks, performances, exhibitions, conferences, events and travel the world, all in the name of art. All of these things feed into my work and enable me to keep on creating. I also run a monthly new media artist peer networking group in London called FLUX (www.fluxevents.co.uk) where any media artists can come along. Here we help artists to engage and discuss their practice and encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Constantly learning and evolving is most important for my artistic practice.

AMM: For you, what is the importance of art in an increasingly technological and digital society?

AS: Throughout my practice I explore how technology and our society can be integrated harmoniously so we no longer have this boundary between technology and nature. I believe that art is a space for people to explore ideas and experiment, which will always be important for progress.

AMM: What do you believe could be the role of art in the future? 

AS: Gone are the days where we believe that art can change the world. However, art provides a space for us to imagine possible futures and experiment, if we think of artists as innovators who explore ideas and try to communicate them to a mass audience. The hope is we can change the way in which people perceive the world in the hope of a better future.

Find out more about the artist: www.aphrashemza.com

Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.