‘I find a lot of things interesting,’ says Bec Brittain, who pursued product design, philosophy and architecture before discovering her love of metal and light – a medium where technicality and art intersect. Her vast curiosity, and ability to translate it into a meaningful expression, is what makes her work a triumph. Otherworldly and jewel-like, her fixtures are partial to geometric shapes, often formed by the light source itself. About a year ago, Brittain made a concerted effort to complement her practice with more special projects: a way to push ideas that are ill-suited for production but perfect for play.
On view at Patrick Parrish until 9 July, Brittain’s solo exhibition 'Autonomic' unveils one-of-a-kind lights through two distinct series, Crane and Vault. All freestanding, and a few human-sized, the work charts new territory for the designer. ‘It was a real learning process of what it’s like both formally and structurally to make things that sit on the ground, that are more like sculpture,’ says Brittain, whose work typically hangs overhead. ‘There’s something innately satisfying about being able to see a fixture anchored to the floor. It’s not up and away from you.’
Oriented as such, each series acts as a window into Brittain’s thought process. Objects from the Crane series feature a recurring brass form that finds different ways to carry a glowing light saber using thin leather straps. Each fixture is around two feet tall and ingeniously weighted with pennies. ‘It started with sketches that were quite literal: a crane-like shape holding a load of glass,’ Brittain says. She kept sketching cranes and paring them down, trying to articulate what she was trying to say. ‘Ultimately, it is about a material quality; the brass being so dense and such an anchor, and the tightness of the glass being hoisted by it.’ She initially wanted to make them floor lamp size, but realised the scale would take too long to produce. Gallery owner Patrick Parrish suggested doing a series of maquettes. ‘I am so thankful we came up with it,’ Brittain says. ‘It was just a logistical issue at first, but ended up being a really helpful step in figuring out what this series even was.’
In the Vault series, narrow brass pipes decorated with LED tubes and wood and ceramic beads extend from polished concrete bases. Drooping or twisting about, some fixtures are dark and moody, while others are playful and fun. Two are exceptionally large, including a six-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall variation that can be walked under. ‘I like that this one feels much more like architecture,’ Brittain says. Like all of her work, each piece was made in her New York studio or sourced locally (‘The concrete guy is in Brooklyn,’ she explains).
Vault riffs on a theme Brittain has been exploring for years: drawing with lines of light. It first surfaced in the 'SHY' light, her debut fixture of modular LED tubes that she’s continued to evolve since 2011. By introducing brass pipes as an element, the Vault objects draw with gestures, producing lines that are more organic and free.
To introduce her first presentation of freestanding objects, Brittain searched for an exhibition title that spoke to their autonomy. ‘I landed on "Autonomic" because I liked the physiological reference,’ she says. ‘I think it speaks to the pieces, which have a bit of something organic and human to them.’