A chat with Alex Lark ahead of the opening of "Deep Time"

Alex Lark has been making waves as an artist for the past decade. We caught up with him ahead of his exhibition at Assembly Point to take a deeper dive into deep time.

Can you share a bit about your artistic background and what led you to pursue a career in visual arts?

My grandfather, a dairy farmer, had artwork around his home that he painted so perhaps that planted a seed in my mind but it has always felt instinctive to make art, whatever the medium or material. I’ve always been moved and puzzled by so many things, creating art has been my way of working through those confusing fascinations.

Through luck, or seeking it out, I was fortunate to have a community of supportive people around me. My parents created a home that appreciated the wonders and possibilities of the world, especially different cultures, and I think being a tri-citizen I’ve sought to bridge gaps in societies’ perceived differences between the illusionary “us” and “them”. My mum would play the piano around the house when I was growing up. Listening to, as well as playing music, has always been an essential part of my art practice. Also, my friends and family in general have been a big part of making it possible, I remember them all chipping in together and buying me my first camera in high school.

By the time I was at University, I was majoring in Visual Arts, and working as a senior designer at the design agency on Duke’s campus. During one semester I studied at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and was assisting British-American artist and painter Thomas Leveritt.

 It was during that time in New York; I had just turned 21, directed a short film, started a company in the visual arts space with some classmates, was working with Tom and studying in the city - I thought, I don’t quite know how, but I can make some form of this art thing work.

You’ve been working with light as a medium for quite a while. Can you explain the significance of the use of light in your artistic vision?

I think every artist uses light to a varying degree but it was about 10 years ago I started more consciously incorporating light directly into my work. First through long exposure photography, animated film and digital imagery, but in the last few years, I have been using neon light which is the neon, argon, helium or xenon gas combination sealed and ignited in a glass tube by electricity.

Part of it is the simple answer that we as humans, as heliotropic beings, quite literally seek out the light. Like a moth to the flame, we are drawn to the light. Humans also have an amazing talent for finding other humans’ faces and eyes in visual imagery but because I work in abstraction, I rarely have a figure to look at, light is part of my subject.

The other piece is the sublime qualities of light. As a medium, as a material, as a colour field and source of energy. With neon light in particular, the glass offers rich tactile and refractive characteristics in my sculptural works while the luminosity of the burning noble gases is unmatched by tungsten, fluorescent or LED lighting.

What challenges do you face when working with neon light as a medium, and how do you overcome them?

Neon light has a number of very impractical qualities. One is that glass is fragile and prone to breaking, so requires extra care while handling, transporting and installing mostly due to rigidity once cool. The other is the electrical systems. Many lights you are familiar with have a single point that powers them. With neon lights, you need two points to complete the light with a metal electrode at each end. There is no easy way around this, and for now, I consciously design these characteristics into the sculptural pieces but I do love the idea of getting the true effect of a blade of light suspended in stone or other natural materials without any visible in or out points.

For the sculptures featured in Deep Time, you’ve shared parts of your process in sourcing stone. Is there anything else about this process you’d like to share?

There is a significant cultural component that I had not originally anticipated when working with stone in Australia that was initially quite confronting to me. By using materials such as stone boulders that are in a very raw state, ideas around the representation of land, environment and people can be at the forefront of an audience's mind. 

Discussing this initial awareness with a current University lecturer of mine, Masato Takasaka, revealed the responsibility I felt to not shy away from the internal conflict of the privileged use of materials related to their place and context. Already aware of the origin of the materials and discussing with the quarry the sourcing from Dja Dja Wurring lands I wanted to do more.

With further guidance from Eugenia Lim related to the conscious use of materials, I reached out to Djaara Balaki Wuka, an Aboriginal representative body for the Dja Dja Wurrung people in the area where I was sourcing the stone. I was able to arrange and meet with Jason Dunnolly-Lee, the Aboriginal Heritage Officer for the Dja Dja Wurrung people and have a long and informative conversation. Jackson generously provided insight into the historical use of different stones in the area, the cultural significance of the mountains where I was sourcing the granite, basalt and quartzite and the underlying ideas about the representation of stone, specifically granite. The open dialogue led me to further explore the mountain area on foot, documenting the land from the perspective of the stone and informing the ideas of how I would exhibit and represent the material going forward to honour and celebrate the memory place.

It was also the beginning of me carefully collecting the displaced shards and dust from the void created within the stone. This displaced stone material is mixed with the black pigment in the Echo painting series, unique to each piece, connecting the series through their shared materiality. A nod to Nobuo Sekine’s Phase—Mother Earth (1968) and his idea that “The universe exists in a constant state of being, neither losing nor gaining matter. Therefore one cannot really create; one can only expose what is there”

Are there dream collaborations or projects you would like to pursue in the future? 

Always, and so many! I would love to collaborate on an installation for Desert X.

In the near future, I’m focused on creating pieces I’m excited about that push my understanding further and have a sense of playful engagement with an audience, especially locally to where I live and work in Australia. Soon I will be creating some works in remote locations that are ephemeral, just for myself and a small group of people. I’ll probably take some photos.

I do like the idea of “permanent” land art and architectural installations and am inspired by the idea of opus works like Turrell’s Roden Crater, Heizer’s City and Bofil’s The Factory… but that will come with time.

There are certain technical elements with equipment and mediums for larger-scale projects that involve engineering currently beyond my capabilities and I look forward to finding the right makers and engineers to help me realise those works.

Amongst that, I’m working towards expanding my practice to include installations and exhibitions in Los Angeles, Berlin and other cities. For now, paso-a-paso (step by step). I am very grateful to have the opportunity to exhibit with the support of Creative Spaces and the City of Melbourne.

Is there a broader message or purpose you aim to convey through your art?

Yes. A pondering and a playfulness. My friends know I take a lot of things too seriously, finding myself currently in a sunny nihilism of sorts, but there is always a lighter side. 

I’m creating space for myself and hopefully, others, to reflect on ideas concerning the natural world, time, physics, humanity and philosophical questions about our existence.

Alex Lark’s exhibition Deep Time is showing at Assembly Point from 16 November - 9 December.

Opening night is 6-8pm on Thursday 16 November.

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