Nicole L’Huillier is a Chilean interdisciplinary artist, musician and architect based in Boston. She works at the MIT Media Lab as a researcher in the Opera of The Future group. Her work explores spatial experience, perception and the relationship between sound and space.
You work as a researcher in MIT, looking into the future of opera. How do you research the future? What is your process from hypothesis to research to conclusions?
The concept of researching the future is both beautiful and challenging. It demands not only to fulfill today’s needs and thoughts, but it’s about projecting and inventing un-thoughts outcomes, practices, models and streams of thinking. I think it is about imagining without boundaries, in order to reach the weirdest and most interesting questions. Then you need to come back to the present and work with the available tools, or invent new ones.
I am not sure if I have a strict process or if I think this is something necessary. Every idea will have very particular ways of developing; every project has its own character, like people. I guess the only thing that I can see as a repetitive pattern is the genesis of every project: it starts with a question. Many times, a very open ended question, and these are the most fun ones. Then everything that comes will be different for every case. Sometimes next step is to try to answer the question; sometimes the next step is to actually avoid it. For example, I was recently working on a project about impossible music. I was wondering what could this be, and instead of answering the question, I started to not answer it. This lead to research about possible music, so maybe impossible music was everything that does not exist on the possible category. This is just an example; it shows how contradictions are the best solutions in some cases, or at least a way to start a path.
I would say that for me the capacity of being wrong, of being flexible is one of the most important things in research and creation, it is fundamental to be able to confront failure and start from scratch and try again an again and again. Sometimes you know exactly how to develop a project at the very moment of asking the question, in my experience, those projects are doomed from the beginning. The process of looking for something is magical and gives life, gives soul to things. When you let things go, they will find their own way, they won’t belong to you anymore and that makes them strong and powerful. I would say that I try to let ideas carry me more than me controlling them, this way they will surprise you, a lot! This is how research can get to new unexpected places; this is at least how I like to work.
But it’s about projecting and inventing un-thoughts outcomes, practices, models and streams of thinking.
How do you think your background influences the outcomes of your work? What part does your education as an architect and your cultural background play in the way you reach conclusions?
I think that as I was explaining before, the capacity of being flexible is a key element of my work. I would say that this is something that comes from background as an architect and also as a musician. As an architect you have a focus and you develop that, though to get to that focus, so many things will change on the way. Processes are always open ended and ideas always evolve and grow. As a musician it works the same way. This is also something that comes from working with others, for example when playing music with others and having band mates demands from you to be able to change all the time, ideas will evolve not only in you, but in everybody, so what happens in the end will be a collective outcome, in order for this to work it is fundamental to be able to listen to others concede space and be flexible.
Besides flexibility, I would say that my background also taught me the value of hard work. I’ve experience so many times the importance of being strong, of going forward even if everything is against you. This is also something I’ve learned as a Latin American woman. This strength I am talking about is not something you just have, it is something you build and learn. I’ve been shaped that way and I am grateful about it, this has led me to dream big and achieve crazy things, this taught me to fight for the things I wanted, to look for them and make them happen. Work can be hard and frustrating, but that shouldn’t stop us from inventing new things, of creating new experiences. Actually that should be our fuel, usually when something is hard to achieve, it is because it is unique and new.
Then there are all the aesthetic, compositional and relational aspects that are very important for my work. My work is very experience centered, it is about connecting, about creating relationships, about building spaces, about containing, about perceiving, about enveloping. All of these are things intrinsic in music and architecture, both creators of embodied experiences in time.
How has technology influenced the way you think about art and space? And looking at the rapid development of technology, where do you think working in the field of arts and design is heading towards?
Technology has changed a lot the way I conceive ideas. It has opened a new space in my mind; it gave me a whole new set of tools to create. I truly think that technology and science gave me the opportunity of thinking about un-thought things, just as I mentioned before, if the tools to make something do not exist, then it doesn’t mean you can’t do the thing you wanted to do. It means you need to create the tools so you can do that un-existent thing. Working with technology opened this possibility on my work, it is like almost nothing is impossible; things can take longer and be harder, but there will be always a way. Even though, technology for me is not the objective of any project. I see it as the facilitator, as the tool, as the mean. This is why I think that technology is a key element for Futuring.
I see the rapid advancements and obsoleteness of things, it is amazing how the perception of time and value of things shifts every day. This is another big reason for valuing flexibility during the creative processes. It shows also the importance of having a critical thinking towards tech based life and how it is shaping our society. Art and design are changing, they are evolving and being disrupted by technology. In some ways I think this is good, I like to see disciplines fading their boundaries and being more inclusive, diversified and transversal. I like this because I like to think that this also means that slowly it will breakdown societal boundaries too. By merging with other practices, art and design are slowly partaking into a more diversified outreach. Things grow and evolve, either they are ideas, projects, people, or disciplines. The rapidness of things is shifting the creative landscape and opening new possibilities, it is on us to use technology and direct it towards the creation of meaning and production of knowledge, and not the other way round.
Art and design are changing, they are evolving and being disrupted by technology.