László Bordos presented his first public projection at a drum’n’bass dance party some 23 years ago, with a few old TVs showing identical footage for good measure. The Hungarian artist has come a long way since that humble debut, having shown his work in around 50 countries to date. He specialises in mapping 3D animation to the contours of famous buildings, including London’s Barbican Centre and Budapest’s Palace of Arts.
This made him a natural fit for Melbourne’s inaugural Now or Never, a celebration of the overlap between art and technology that spans more than 70 events – including performances, installations and discussions – from August 17 to September 2. He’s been commissioned to present a 3D architectural mapping of the Shrine of Remembrance, which this year marks the centenary of the design competition that led to its construction. Built to honour Victorians who served in the First World War, it’s now a place to memorialise any Australian who has served or sacrificed their life in war since the country’s federation in 1901.
“When I’m invited to do a projection, of course the building is super important – and its history,” Bordos says. “But I’m also thinking with light and shadow as part of the process. I would like to make an artwork that doesn’t just make people feel good, but also [makes them] think and brings out emotions. I wanted to show a succession of memorial light sculptures to highlight some of the ideas behind that building.”
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The resulting 12-minute piece, a world premiere entitled SACRA, will run every half-hour from 6.30pm to 11pm on September 1 and 2, with no entry fee. Bordos will also give an hour-long talk on September 2 (tickets are $10). SACRA is a non-narrative piece inspired by the sacred act of sacrifice, yet there are subtle storytelling elements that audiences will appreciate.
“There is an abstract story behind it, which I’m telling with the use of lights,” he says. “I reflect the idea that the source of life is light, so I’m starting with one light facing the audience, and the projection will end with the same light. It’s a symbol of life.”
Bordos discovered 3D-animation software while studying art at uni, prompting him to explore the possibilities of making art with computers. Just as 3D animation has become sophisticated enough to project onto large-scale buildings, laser scanning now allows him to plan his pieces remotely, before he actually steps foot in the site itself.
“Twenty years ago, I really had to go [there beforehand, whether it was] Canada or Mexico or Japan,” says Bordos. “I had to visit the venue and take photographs and measurements. Today I just need to ask a company to do a laser scan of the venue.”
He’s usually contracted about a year out from showing the final work, which gives him time to think about it at length. It then takes about two months of intensive work, including close collaboration with a composer for the piece. Sacra sees him once again team up with Czech composer Ondřej Skála, who like Bordos has a background in painting.
“I often say he’s painting with sound and I’m painting with light,” Bordos says. “[But] it’s not like an abstract expressionist painting with a brush – it’s a logical process.” This won’t be the first time he has presented work in Australia: he had a stint at Adelaide Festival in 2015, with works simultaneously lighting up both the Parliament of South Australia and the Adelaide Festival Centre, commandeering 26 projectors all up.
Besides enjoying the travel that comes with showing his work around the world, Bordos has learnt a great deal about architecture as a direct result of his elaborate projections. After all, these distinctive buildings are the canvas for his soaring, multilayered creations. And each one tells a story – countless stories in the case of the Shrine of Remembrance – that deeply informs the work he makes.
“When I’m travelling, I keep myself aware and watch different kinds of buildings,” he says. “Knowing architecture and knowing history gives me another context. I’m not an expert, but happily I’ve had a chance to learn about the history of architecture, which is the history of humanity.”
Now or Never festival is on from August 17 to September 2. Find out more on the program here.
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Now or Never.