Her installations currently grace corporations and organizations from Europe to the U.S. and Mexico, plus she was an invited speaker at the closing ceremonies for the United Nation’s International Year of Light 2015 in Mexico. Mery Crystal Ra’s art is simultaneously deep and light, complex and clear — a contradiction on various levels for which it works to instill a sense of awe.
Mike Brannon: How did you choose light as your artistic medium?
Mery Crystal Ra: For me, art is a spiritual experience; a form of ecstasy. It’s a kind of meditation that produces a physical work of art. As a child, I was surrounded by art and science. My father was an engineer/ artist/caricaturist and my mother is a folklorist. My friends and I would create installations of glass and light combining colored pieces of glass and foil candy wrappers covered with transparent glass sheets. Later we would uncover the project and watch the sparkling sunlight reflect on the glass and foil. Sometimes the effects of the sunlight were dazzling. We also made kaleidoscopes out of tubes and pieces of glass. I was constantly experimenting with glass and foil to see what kind of magical effects we could produce.
In addition, I was inspired by the stained glass windows in manors, castles, and cathedrals. I loved everything made of glass! For me, glass was a mystical material of endless possibilities. The interplay of glass and light has always fascinated me.
At the art academy, I experimented with light-conductive materials in collaboration with the top physics professors, who helped me create special luminous materials that would glow eerily under black light. I experimented with quartz glass sticks, borosilicate rods, lasers, and whatever other materials I could find to create fantastical projects.
MB: Who have been some of your biggest influences?
MCR: Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Claude Monet — their vision, originality, and energy still inspire me. I’m also inspired by birdsong, wind, and music. Living so close to the Arctic forces us to deal with intense weather. It’s depressing in the winter when it stays dark for most of the day, and confusing in the summer when the sun never seems to set. So the weather is definitely an influence on my work.
MB: Did you always imagine working on a large scale?
MCR: Yes. I’ve dreamed of using light to make rooms that would undergo continual metamorphosis, transforming and transitioning endlessly from nothingness into complex states of physical reality. Now I have actually turned those dreams into works of art!
Art doesn’t have to be grand. It can be small and beautiful. I love to fabricate jewelry and lamps and love to paint with acrylics and make aquarelles. All art is the same, essentially. The scale and medium are merely matters of choice and convenience. You work with the materials at hand.
I also love handwriting. Many colleagues have remarked on my unique style of handwriting. There are thousands of ways for the artist to express her creativity. Sometimes all you need is a pen and a piece of paper.
MB: You work with lasers, glass, LEDs, and fiber optics. How do you source and research your materials and techniques?
MCR: I began experimenting with lasers and light-conducting fibers about 30 years ago. Fiber is still my passion, but LEDs are definitely the most energy-efficient light sources for creating my sculptures. Using computers to control the LEDs offers even more possibilities for creativity.
I also use very sharp quartz glass sticks. I’ve found that quartz is one of the best light-conducting materials. Combinations of quartz glass rods and lasers are often spectacular, and they allow for incredible creativity!
I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some of the world’s top scientists. I’ve had special materials made for some of my projects, and it’s a thrill working with exotic media such as light-conducting plastic.
It’s never just about the technology, however. That’s just a tool for expressing your passion. You need to let your passion and your feelings flow into your work. Technology can help you, but you need the passion first. Without the passion, the tech is just craft, not art.
MB: What are you trying to express? What do you want viewers to experience and remember?
MCR: I feel an intense pressure to express my inner feelings. I want to make the invisible visible. I want people to see the vibrations, synergies, and energies that flow between us. That’s one of the reasons I work with combinations of light and glass — they enable us to glimpse what’s normally invisible.
One of the best compliments I received for my light-glass sculpture called Flying Sheets of Paper came from a Stanford professor who said that he experiences a FLOW FEELING while looking at my work. Those are the kinds of feelings I try to evoke. I want people to feel the energy flowing between the glass and the light.
I want people to reflect on the nature of permanence and impermanence. I want people to consider states of energy and levels of invisible force. For me, that’s when my work is successful — when people “see” what’s normally invisible and react with joy, wonderment, and euphoria.
MB: What have been your favorite and most challenging projects?
MCR: Flying Sheets of Paper is a permanent glass-light sculpture located in the main lobby of the Glaston Corporation. The video about the sculpture received a public choice award at the international CODA magazine competition and was exhibited at SOFA CHICAGO 2015. Flying Sheets of Paper makes a powerful statement about the nature of industry and art. It evokes the energy that can be born between people when they work together creatively. The sculpture’s curved surfaces highlight the fluid nature of glass, which only seems solid, but in reality is continually flowing.
Next would be Parasite Beach, an underground light meditation combining light, glass, and animation. The unique and unusual project was installed in an underground tunnel at the Estonian Mining Museum in Kohtla-Nõmme, Estonia and created interactive, real-time and continually evolving displays of light and sound.
Light for Peace is an interactive solo exhibition created for UNESCO’s International Year of Light closing ceremony in Mexico. It was difficult to create, but ultimately successful. We had to overcome many technical challenges, but with the help of my team, we made it work.
The Golden Gate meets Golden Gateway was designed for the TETRA Building in Estonia. It included glass walls and panels decorated with digitally printed abstract motifs and projected video images. I tried to create a corresponding space that communicates and leaves a positive impression on visitors, creating a “synergy of place.” I also re-applied the symbols of Finno-Ugric and local heritage, adding symbols and messages to signify light, energy, and power.
Reactive River was installed in the main building of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. It is essentially a 15-meter glass river, with built-in blue and yellow LEDs to create the effect of a running river. The river was both symbolic and surreal, running uphill and turning into a train.
MB: What has been your experience as a woman in the conceptual art and design world?
MCR: As a woman I think my mission is bringing sensitivity, spirituality, fun, and surrealism into a world that’s still far too cold and serious.
The field of architecture is still dominated by men, and as a result, many buildings feel like prisons. It makes me sad when women reflexively support decisions and solutions that seem driven by hyper-masculine rationality. Hopefully, my glass-light-video sculptures and paintings enrich the architectural world and imbue it with feminine emotionality.
I have been fortunate to work with many brilliant and creative men in a variety of fields, including architecture, engineering, industry and manufacturing. We share a common language of science and a common love of the physical world, which is often a magical place.
MB: What are some of your current and future projects?
MCR: I am preparing my LIGHT/ PEACE World Tour and I have some very exciting proposals for the project from six continents. I’m planning an exhibit of my acrylic paintings, plus I’m preparing a book about my art with stories and photographs. I will continue my collaborative work with scientists and engineers, finding new and exciting ways to explore the mysteries of the universe through art. I’m fascinated by the interaction of energy and spirit. I love observing and revealing the flow of creative energy between people and the world surrounding us.
One of my goals is demonstrating that architecture has value beyond commercial décor. I want to create dialogues between architectural surfaces and those observing them. For me, the play of light on glass enables a magical transformation. Light, which is normally invisible, becomes visible when it strikes a surface and bounces into our eyes. I love playing with that kind of natural magic.