While real-world lasers weren’t invented until 1960, fictional laser technology populated science-fiction novels and films years beforehand. The idea of a laser or ray-gun dates back to the ’30s, if not earlier, with Buck Rogers comic strips. With the development of special effects in visual mediums after the war, movies and television series–James Bond, Star Trek, and Star Wars, and their toy tie-ins–re-envisioned what lasers looked like for a new generation. And they were cool.
They still are, if summer blockbusters, Coachella headlining acts, and artist Jayson Haebich have anything to say about it. Haebich’s latest work, Vector Space, purposes all kinds of lasers to create large, echoing rooms out of nothing but light, shadow, and lots and lots of smoke.
A self-described new media artist, Haebich has used lasers extensively in the past, but Vector Space represents the first time he has treated them in such an architectural manner. “I started using lasers a few years back for music events and quickly realized the potential to use them in a more artistic way,” Haebich tells Co.Design. He experimented with different uses for the lasers, along with projectors, high-output light bulbs, and LEDs, to build what he calls “light sculptures.” In the end, lasers gave him the cleanest lines and edges of all the light sources he tested.
Haebich constructs each composition according to the same template: The shot, a one-point perspective, is divided in half, and the vanishing point occupies the center of the image. Wide swaths of colored light–blue, green, pink, purple, red, yellow–extend from that point in all directions. Bands of shadow punctuate the laser “walls” at specific intervals.
These shards of color float in mid-air and cut, in dynamic angles, across the few architectural elements (columns and low partitions) that appear in images of the installation. Haebich purposely left the sets sparse. He excluded people and left the size of the columns ambiguous to obscure the physical properties of the space–forcing viewers to recalibrate their perceptions of scale and perspective.
The lasers were (painfully) mapped out beforehand using bespoke software that Haebich developed himself exclusively for the project. Still, there was a lot of trial-and-error involved, Haebich says, whether it involved adjusting color hues, refining shapes, or rearranging the props.
And the final touch: smoke. “I’m interested in the idea of using light to create volumetric shapes, in mid-air, that illuminate airborne particles such as smoke,” Haebich explains. He positioned a smoke machine at the rear of the frame, directly in front of the laser source. The emitting substance forms a gaseous screen that modulates the surface of the laser fields, giving them texture and a milky, cloud-like appearance. For Haebich, it’s the perspectival certitude combined with a smoky haziness that give the works “an almost ethereal or other worldly feel.”