Interview with light artist Olivia Steele
Do you think words have more meaning being displayed than spoken?
Aside from the innate difference between hearing and seeing, I think it’s very personal, depending on your dominant learning style. Whether you’re a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, you will experience and process words and their meaning in a different way. I am definitely visually dominant and this is why seeing words is so powerful for me. . . and living with them is a whole other level of integration. There’s something about cementing the words in physical form that really give it weight and meaning. When words are formed in glass and filled with gas, it’s as if the’ve been activated and the process alone is very concrete and absolute, there’s no way back. Nonetheless, words are so powerful, and when you combine them with the light, it’s even more impactful.
Did these words get their start in dialogue?
It varies, but a majority comes from a dialog of some sort, either an inner dialogue – or literal dialog. I would say life’s little mysteries, injustices, emotional pulls, and the complexity of the trials and tribulations of the human experience is what fuels my rhetoric. Another source of inspiration is dreams. I often dream my art and then install my dreams.
Are these pieces ever created with a specific recipient in mind?
To be honest, I make all my art for me. These are all messages I need to receive and integrate first. It’s the primary purpose of my art, it’s my own medicine and coping mechanism. I find Art to be a very practical tool to navigate this thing called life. The beauty of it all is that we are all one, and I am just a reflection of you. So in essence, that which I create for myself, I’m creating for everyone else. The themes and messages are universal. I work with simplistic and profound truths that we can all relate to. My art is created for humanity and I endeavor to empower individuals through the use of these inner musings and ancient wisdom. I always say my art does not speak to everyone but to the ones it does, it speaks volumes.
Back in 2014, I did however create a body of work ; 6 statements directed at my estranged mother, whom I could not communicate with. I wanted to document my side of a family tragedy and make a statement, so I shot a film featuring these 6 messages in Neon, installed outside on the property where I grew up in Nashville, TN. It ’s pretty heavy, but true. The name of the film is “Nothing Is What It Seems”.
Your work speaks volumes to many people dealing with their own internal/emotional dialogue. What does projecting these words externally do for you?
The process of conceiving, fabricating, installing and then releasing my work to the public is a very therapeutic process to say the least. It is as confronting as it is liberating. It fosters a certain level of conviction. The quote by Yayoi Kusama has always felt relevant: “Every time I have had a problem, I have confronted it with the ax of Art. ” My art comes from my heart and is a reflection of my spiritual path, allowing me to face myself, face others, and encourage the world to reflect upon itself. I am a medium for my artwork as a lot of it comes from what I have learned and what I wish I knew.
What is one phrase you want to be remembered by?
Everything You Need is Inside You. – inspired by Rumi.
You’ve expanded your mediums to include traffic signs, tapestries, and fire. Is there a material besides neon you’re dying to work with?
I am dying to work with Pyrotechnics, fireworks, explosives and large scale smoke bombs. Taking it up a notch, I ’d love to do XXXL ephemeral spectacles.
In recent years, we’ve been seeing a shift from neon outside of stores and in cosmopolitan settings, to inside homes, restaurants and other private settings. What is it that makes neon such a coveted decor piece?
Humans are innately attracted to light. And now that there’s been a trend with neon in a non-commercial sign façon, people see the medium presented in a different way and start to crave it. Humans love to imitate what they see, so the Neon trend has really snowballed around the globe. It’s a fact, Neon completely changes a room, adding a very specific energy to the space, it’s instant vibe.
What’s one thing we can always find in your studio?
Music is on 24/7. And we keep the Copal incense well stocked.
View the exclusive print release with Tax Collection x Guy Hepner here.