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Kit Webster’s Art Is Not For The Photosensitive

To the Melbourne-based sound and video artist, every reality is malleable.

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This year, light and sound artist Kit Webster was tapped by Jägermeister to be a part of their Meisterpieces project; an ongoing series which sees hands-on makers craft works inspired by the liqueur’s long-standing heritage and values. Ahead of the release of Kit’s Meisterpiece on Acclaim on March 28th, we spoke with him about his craft and philosophy. This article is presented in partnership with Jägermeister.

To Kit Webster every reality is malleable. It’s something he brings up again and again throughout our interview. It permeates his work as a sound and video artist and worms its way into his installations. Kit’s love for the weird, the brain-melting, and the strange endears him to his clients—which include the Australian Open, Calvin Harris, and Jagermeister—and his audience.

It’s his goal to pull you out of everything you think you know about your senses. He’s created cubes with over 700,000 LED lights, transported whole rooms with a single metal sphere, a projector and a sub, and warped gallery architecture with motorised mirrors and a projection of scribbles.

We called Kit while he was on set in Brisbane to chat about looking after yourself, next steps, and the crazy matrix wormholes he finds himself in.

How do you get from idea to completion with a project? When do you know a project is finished?
It’s an evolving process and I always learn things from the last project. I think about how the audience engages with it. How logistically it can be created, the cost, how hard it is to program, the returns I’d get on it. I try to weigh all these up and produce installations that I know are going to be viable and feasible, something that I can realistically create. I’ve got these crazy ideas and these vast freaky concepts that I want to do. But sometimes it’s all just imaginary. It’s about trying to really push imagination and go “What can I do in the imaginary world and how can that be merged into reality?”

What did you learn from your last project that you can take into your next project?
There’s a lot of work with software, so I learnt a lot of the techniques with that. I learnt a lot about hardware too and dealing with suppliers and how to get people on board with what you’re doing as well. I’ll be so focused on programming and the music and everything that I become a hermit. If you really want to create big interesting projects, you’ve got to have multiple minds on board. It’s all about liaising with different specialists to build something great. Another thing is looking after myself. Making sure that when I go down these crazy matrix wormholes, I actually look after myself. You’ve just gotta step back, and go for a walk and stop at 10pm and go to bed.

When did you realise that you could blend technology and art, and the physical and digital worlds? Who introduced you to that?
Youtube! [Laughs] Literally 12 years ago when Youtube was just kicking up, I got to see everything that was happening in Europe. I saw one installation called 3Destruct by a group called ANTIVJ. I still remember seeing that installation on Youtube. At that moment I was like “Okay, what the fuck is thatgive it to me now.” I studied sound art, but they weren’t teaching me video art or anything [like that]. I went to my teachers and was like “Hey, what about this?” They hated me. They didn’t know what to say about it. The only guy that helped me was my sound art teacher, and he was a tripper. He was like “Whoa! This stuff’s crazy!” I actually got him into light and art projection mapping.

Do you think your background in sound and video art design still informs your current work? Or did you go too rogue at RMIT?
When I got into the course, my whole life changed. Before that, I had no idea what I was doing in life. I was literally a security guard. But I was playing around with electronic music and I knew I was kind of interested in that. And then I got a scholarship to do that. And I won a little sound design competition with the ABC. As soon as I got into the course, it was fucking insane. The level of trippiness multiplied by a thousand. I didn’t know what sound art was. We were sitting in class sometimes, listening to silence. It was kind of like Charlie when he first walked into the Willy Wonka chocolate factory. I did that, and then I went to video and my sound art kind of took a backseat. I got heaps of work through video. In terms of the installations, it’s always an audio-visual fusion. That’s what I’m trying to focus on at the moment. The pure fusion of sound and light. Not many people are doing that.

What feeling do you try to elicit from an audience with your installations?
Everyone has these preconceived notions of reality based on their experiences, memories, their environment and how they’re brought up. So no-one actually knows what “base reality” is. What I’m trying to do is, when people are inside the experience, I’m trying to get them to question the nature of their construct of reality. The way I do that is through illusion. For instance, I’ll take tempo and rhythm and all people’s preconceived notions of how that will evolve narratively. But then I’ll turn it upside down. It’s a technique called consonance and dissonance, which is this synchronisation and asynchronisation. It’s a distinct spectrum between chaos and order. When people listen to music, they’re basically getting hypnotised. You can harness light and sound and if you’ve got the right equipment and the fidelity of the equipment, you can really take people on these journeys. But you can also get them to question time and space as well.

On the flip side of that, installations have become really prevalent in popular culture. What are your thoughts on the current trend of creating “Instagrammable” moments?
I’ve been talking about that a lot recently. Don’t get me wrong, the phone creates an amazing experience for people. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s a constant stream of entertainment, perfectly synthesised to exactly what you want. But people are starting to realise that there needs to be other types of experiences out there. They know technology is evolving, especially millennials. Their expectations are high for these new types of experiences. What I’m doing is taking the energy from that phone and surrounding it and putting you inside there. So it’s not just a tiny screen in your hand, it’s all around you, 360 degrees. And it’s sub-bass frequencies at 20 hertz which shake you. It’s earth rattling vibrations and all kinds of high intensity light spectrums. That’s cool on your phone, but when you take actual physics and you get immersed in that, it’s a whole other playing field.

What makes walking into an installation space special for you? How do you achieve that in your work?
If I’m transported, then that’s important for me. I’m very picky and I’ll see things and know straight away if something has been done the wrong way. I’ll know if there’s light coming through or I can see the pixels, if it’s not bright enough, if the sound quality isn’t good enough. If all those things come together in unison and it creates that magic, then that’s what I like. I go to see a lot of shows, the circus, movies. I like theme parks as well. At the end of the day, I’m an entertainer. It’s research for me. If I’m setting up an installation, I’ve gotta be on everyone’s case to make sure that all the little elements are perfected. So that when people walk in, they appreciate and they understand the attention to detail.

You’ve done festivals, brand collaborations, facade projections, and exhibitions. For you, what’s the next step?
I’m going to keep focusing on audio-visual experiences. My dream is to be able to do this full-time. That’s important to me. Having the time to work on music. I’m sitting in a marquee right now and I’ve got two lasers, two strobes, I’ve got an echo sound system which is great. But I could honestly have four subs, I’ve only got one at the moment. More subs is my goal! I’ve got a few crazy ideas up my sleeve, which I think are going to be transcendental to experience. [Laughs] Like holograms and stuff. I really want to create one of those–that’s pretty much the end goal.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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