Sancho's Dirty Laundry

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Bends & Loops - Jess Herrington

14 April 2019 by Sancho Murphy

Jess Herrington is a new media-post internet artist. She is also a PhD neuroscience candidate studying visual perception at the Australian National University. Herrington produces augmented reality and virtual reality for creative applications on mobile devices and headsets. She also creates sculptural light works, primarily in neon - fabricating her own experimental lighting at the Canberra Glassworks!

Neon lights evolved from scientific experiments in which various gases were subjected to high voltage currents. In it's more familial commercial application such as signage, a neon lighting display is made of glass tubes that have been filled with a gas and bent into the shape of letters or decorative designs. When a high voltage current is passed through the gas, the tubes emit light. There are several gases that can be used, along with different tints and phosphor coatings on the glass tubes to produce a spectrum of different colours!

As an individual interested in how we perceive and process our visual world, Jess Herrington draws inspiration from abnormality, experimenting with colour and form in both her neon making and AR/VR works. In this interview we talk about her free-form glassmaking process for neons, the influence the digital age has had on her creative work, and her interest in creating pieces based on our interactions with visual information - through abstraction, so as to evoke a purely emotional response from the viewer that is not related to memories of any specific imagery.

Jess Herrington's neon sculptural pieces are currently on display and for purchase at the newly launched Dirty Laundry pocket gallery (located in the shop's front window). Exhibition runs from the 30th March - 26th May, 2019.


Photo credit: Zan Wemberley (Verge Gallery)


How would you describe your artwork? Tell us a bit about the installation you will be doing in the newly launched Dirty Laundry window pocket gallery.
The installation I’m doing for the window pocket gallery is a collection of neon works. I’m interested in visual perception, and so these pieces are a collection of experiments with producing different qualities of light. Because neon is a gas, it is unique in the type of light it produces. LEDs have come a long way but cannot reproduce the soft, even glow of neon. Some of the works here are very bright, traditional neon pieces, whereas others use handmade glass tubes and create a much softer, more subtle glow.


How has the digital age changed the way you make and experiment with your practice?
I really enjoy making digital work. I think that digital work and the ability to share it through social media has brought about new exciting opportunities for sharing work outside of the traditional ‘white cube’. The traditional ‘artworld’ has changed a lot in the last 10 years, and I think that digital and new media work is leading the way and creating unique new ways to engage with art.


You are also interested in the idea of augmented space; for example, you’ve created VR works that allow people to move around and explore abstract shapes that they can interact with. How do these augmented spaces contribute to experience?
In both VR and AR, I’m interested in creating spaces that are not possible in reality. I’m interested in creating spaces for people to explore unusual environments that play with perception and allow for experimentation that would not normally be possible. This is done through using impossible surface textures and playing with the physics of how things move and react.


Experimental Neons by Jess Herrington on display at Dirty Laundry


How do you balance digital vs. sculptural when making? Your creative work covers several mediums, which do you prefer to work in?
I tend to think of all my work as ‘sculptural’. When making work, I like to think about a concept used in game and experience design, which is ‘world building’. That is, rather than creating lots of individual, stand-alone works, I’m trying to create a ‘world’ which links all of the different elements together. I think that producing AR and VR environments is my favourite thing to make at the


Who are some digital artists that we should all suss? What are your influences?  What kind of art do you most identify with?
I most identify with New Media Art. Some of my favourite artists are: Jess Johnson (VR), Nancy Baker Cahill (AR), Cabbibo (VR).






Can you describe and give us an insight into the process of your neon making?
I create the neons myself at the Canberra Glassworks. I buy commercially made glass tubes and also use handmade glass tubes. I use a torch (called a ribbon burner) to heat a section of the glass at a time and free-form bend it while it is hot. Once this is done, I have someone else attach electrodes and fill the pieces with neon gas, or argon gas as it is a very specialised skill. The colour of the neons can be affected by the gas inside, the colour of the glass tube, and a phosphorescent powder that coats the inside of the tube.

What motivates you as an artist, is it curiosity, the search for beauty or meaning?
I’m motivated by curiosity, play, and experimentation. I like to think about the audience more than myself, I like to think about what other people will get out of it, what sort of experience they will have.



What subject matters interest you? What are some of the stories behind your work?
I tend to make work that isn’t ‘about’ something. The artwork provides the experience in itself. The subject matter I mostly experiment with is how we perceive light and objects. This relates to my research for my PhD in visual neuroscience, which is all about how we perceive surface textures. I like to play with shapes to make things look ‘awkward’ or unexpected.


What are some of the tools/programs you use to create your augmented work?
I use Unity software to create AR and VR experiences. Lately, I’ve also been using Spark AR to create AR effects for Instagram.




What do you predict for the future of this kind of art? Where would you like to see it go?
I’m excited about the potential of AR to create new, digital, collaborative spaces. AR isn’t just for creating objects, you can use it to create spaces too. At the moment, AR experiences focus on providing the same experience for each person individually. When people can collaborate and affect the same objects in a shared AR space, things will get interesting!


What is your dream project?
I’d like to work on a shared AR architectural space. I’d like it to mimic organic processes and grow and decay over time. The aspects that people used would strengthen and remain, while the things that people don’t use would disappear. In this way, the AR space is created for people, by people.


Which current art world trends are you following?
At the moment, I am trying to move out of the traditional art world a little bit and do more unusual things in different spaces. For example, lately I’ve had fun creating AR effects for Instagram. It’s been really successful, as people are familiar with social media and don’t have to download a separate app to experience my work. Creating art work on a social media platform also makes it very easy to share. 

Jess Herrington will be exhibiting & selling her hand-made neon's at the newly launched Dirty Laundry pocket gallery (located in the shop's front window). Exhibition runs from the 30th March - 26th May, 2019.

Each neon piece comes with a 1 year warranty. However, neons are very long lasting and with good care are expected to last 10-20 years before needing repair. The longest lasting neon in history was lit continuously for 77 years!