illumni People Profile:
Stuart Alexander

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illumni muses over the interests and influences of Stuart Alexander, Senior Designer with lighting design firm Michael Grubb Studio. His notable projects include The Gardens of Light, a unique light festival in Bournemouth, created from the ground up by the Studio.

He also runs Polyphant – a multi disciplinary design practice with a focus on immaterial architectures, creating immersive environments and experimenting with projections, light and a whole array of other elements since it was established. 

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Would you say that you had a personal style that reflects in your design work?

I am interested in blurring the boundaries between lighting, video and physical experience. I love the term ‘immaterial architecture’ and see lighting as only one element within this tool kit, because after all, light needs to hit something for it to be seen. I like to think it is about exploring unknown pleasures and undecided futures.

Lighting Designers spend a lot of time thinking about spaces and how people experience them. Could you share with us a favourite place of yours in the world – somewhere that inspires you?

I love wandering around the 3 Museums of Exhibition Road in London. I love the variety of exhibitions and wealth of knowledge there is. My favourite space of all 3 is the cast courts in the V&A – it’s a wilderness of copy pasted architecture. Even though the lighting is truly awful, you learn a lot about form and the presence of architecture. You can’t study that from Google images, it’s the closest thing we have to an architectural zoo.

Influences can come from many places, and from many different people. If you had the chance to meet anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be? And why?

Sun Ra, Carl Sagan, James Turrell. A mix of dreams, science, and art. The discussions of undiscovered phenomena and a cosmic social.

Can you tell us something interesting about yourself or your work that perhaps not many people know, but you would like them to?

I’ve been homebrewing for almost a year and I am really proud of the results. I’ve scaled my operation to 5 gallon batches. So please contact me if you want any super India Pale Ale with more hops than you can imagine.

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What would you say was the most unusual source of creative inspiration that has fed into your work to date?

Hypnoerotomachia Poliphili (translates as Poliphili’s Strife of Love in a Dream), a 17th century book where the main character ‘Poliphili’ is lost in a dream made up of architectural ruins and landscapes searching for his love. I want to explore the idea of Hypnoerotomachia Polyphant, but perhaps that is how I somehow look at my life.  Otherwise, Sci-Fi from before I was born, English folklore and I am a keen in exploring a wide variety of music and sounds. I am still very effected by growing up listening to bands like Yello and New Order, both of which have very unique visual elements to them.

What springs to your mind if I ask you what your all-time favourite bit of lighting kit is?

Madmapper – a tool for creating video-mapping projections with incredible flexibility to include lights or video files from a massive variety of applications. I haven’t had a good opportunity to take it really far yet, but there are a some great opportunities in the pipeline.

What would you say you are really good at, in the context of lighting design?

Creating ideas with meaning and having the desire to actually make them happen.

And the thing that you find personally most challenging…….?

Giving up when it seems impossible. The hours I spent trying to fuse Mylar together to make balloons with a cheap iron from Argos comes to mind. I was trying to create a see of super reflective clouds to float above a dance floor at a warehouse in east London. I’m still trying to make it happen.

What would you say is the most exciting aspect in regards to working in the field of lighting design?

Being able to change spaces into atmospheres, and then seeing how people respond, use and interact with them. I’ve been incredibly lucky with projects I’ve worked. I’ve had a few ‘once in a lifetime’ moments really drive me forward. Now I’ve almost been in the industry for 50,000 hours it isn’t my drive(rs) that will fail.

And conversely, what do you find frustrating or upsetting thing about working in the field of lighting design?

Seeing a lot of lights not being used. I had a ‘Toy Story’ moment that inspired a new initiative we have started called “Re:Lit”. We had so much demo kit in the office and I new that none of it would be on for 50,000 hours – and doubted that the companies would want it back, which was a sad thought. So with Re:Lit  we look to upcycle unwanted demo lighting to reinvigorate spaces for communities. Working with whatever lights you get given to create a scheme is very exciting and makes you think outside of the box. Our project with the Shelley Theatre will open at the end of March, check out the progress here: www.relitproject.co.uk

I say light; you say?­

What illuminates the night? Poetry. It’s a quote from Alphaville.