Artist Luke Jerram on collaboration for creativity

Sensemaking / Artist Luke Jerram on collaboration for creativity

Anna Simpson met artist Luke Jerram at Singapore’s ArtScience museum, where Jerram’s Glass Microbiology sculptures are displayed in response to the multidisciplinary work of Leonardo da Vinci. This setting inspired a conversation about how ideas come into being, and how art relates to innovation.

By Anna Simpson / 04 Mar 2015

Anna Simpson: How do you go about making art?  

Luke Jerram: I am happy to apply my creativity to anything, but I do it in a collaborative way. There's this concept that became popular in the 20th century that a fine artist has to do everything themselves – but that’s not how everything else gets made. The phone that you're recording this on now was made by maybe a thousand people all coming together: there will be people who designed all the different programmes on it, people who developed the outer casing, people who supplied the glass. Similarly, for a painting by [the French Baroque artist] Nicolas Poussin, there would have been a specialist bought in to paint the trees and another specialist to do the water and reflections, and another for the figures. And so I might work with architects to design a structure, or with a chef on a new meal, or with a city planner on public space. I think it's about the application of creativity and a new way of thinking, that's what I have to offer. By collaborating with people, anything is possible.

AS: What do you mean by a 'new way of thinking'?

LJ: Well, you can turn the world on its head. You can say, ‘Well, I've got a street here, why don't we turn it into a giant water slide?' Then it's about having the ability to push that idea all the way through to realisation. Or you've got an engagement ring and you're thinking 'How am I going to get information on this ring to communicate a message?' I think, let’s cut a groove into it and turn it into a tiny record player. So, it's just about looking at the world in a slightly different way, and then pursuing those ideas.    

AS: A lot of your works have caught people's imagination. What do you think it is that makes them stand out?

LJ: I have tried to make artworks that can be engaged with at different levels. Take my giant singing sculpture, Aeolus. A four year old child might respond, 'Oh, that's pretty', whereas an architect student will be thinking about the geometry and a engineer will look at the way it produces sound. I often ask myself what my grandmother would think about it, and how another artist might go about it. The important thing is that it can be appreciated and accessed in all sorts of different ways. People get really excited by ideas when they can easily relate to them. 

AS: Do you see art as a way of engineering how people relate to the world around them? 

LJ: Yes and no. Take viruses. My Glass Microbiology recreates them as transparent objects, without any colour, and yet in the media, they are often presented with colours have been artificially added. The colour gives them emotional value and emotional content so you end up with these scary looking purple images, invoking danger. So, that's why I started making them out of glass. The problem is that when you make them in glass, because it is transparent, they end up incredibly beautiful. That’s what viruses look like if you take just their geometric forms. So I suppose I'm just trying to reveal something about the world that is already there. That tension arises between the beauty of the object and what they represent and I suppose I am interested in that tension. 

Luke Jerram's multidisciplinary arts practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live artworks.
His work features in the 'Da Vinci: Shaping the Future' exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, Singapore.    

Photograph by Luke Jerram

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