Artists and scientists have long explored the properties of light, colour and sound. For most of us, each is so much part of our sensory world we often don’t think about them until perhaps they are taken away or intervened with – maybe by an artwork.
Through observation, inquiry and inference artists, scientists and philosophers have struggled to understand how light, colour and sound are created but also how humans perceive and make meaning from various combinations of the three.
How does colour exist?
What do human’s perceive or see as light?
When does our brain process sound and interpret it as music?
In physics, sound is explained as vibrations. When an object vibrates, it causes the air around to vibrate and so causes sound waves. These waves of energy travel through the air, liquids or solids, before being received by people in our ears, interpreted by the brain where we add meaning and descriptions such as loud or soft, high or low.
Colour and light are inseparable in physics. Colour is caused by light reflecting from objects in specific ways; depending on how the light reflects, it creates a spectrum of light which interacts with cells in our eyes, called photoreceptors. Colour science includes the physics of visible electromagnetic radiation – another way to say light that can be seen by humans. Quantum mechanics also tells us that light acts both as a particle and as a wave.
While physics works to explain the physical properties of light and sound, the contemporary artists in this section use sound art and installation* to experiment with audiences’ perception and experience. Haroon Mirza creates installations that test the relationship between sound and light waves and electric current, while questioning the difference between noise, sound and music. Fran Barrett’s and Archie Barry’s respective sound environment and audio work draw attention to the physical act of listening.
*An art installation is a large scale artwork that surrounds and immerses the viewer. It can often be walked through, and may be completed or changed by the environment where it is installed.