Jordan Soderberg Mills is an exceptional artist who uses light and glass to create breathtaking optical effects in a a blaze of colours. Find out about his colour in design journey so far and hear a story that is as mesmerising as his work. Jordan tells it just how it is…to be just who he is. It’s seriously brilliant so read on.
University Course - MA in Design from Central Saint Martins, specializing in light and optics.
"The neurologist Oliver Sacks once said that “every act of perception is an act of creation.” This is a reminder that everything around us, the world we think we know, is built more by our brains than what is really out there. There are billions of phenomenon that swirl around us - gamma rays to radio waves - we’re just not attuned to pick them up. I try to work between creation and perception, break these walls, and set out to build and catch these unseen things".
What was the motivation for starting on your path in design? Was it always hard wired into who you are or was it a change of direction?
I’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, and grew up in a very creative family. My mom and brother construct large-scale public art projects, my sister won a Wallpaper award for her chocolate brand (https://www.cxbo.ca), my dad is a writer. We all run our own businesses and that has always shaped my career path.
From their experience, I knew that I had to create opportunities by generating my own projects, collaborating, and slipping into other creative disciplines. Diversifying the outcomes of your creative process opens more doors. Setting out specific goals, figuring out the steps to get there by asking lots of questions, and making them happen is how you build a career. They taught me that success is a series of small victories that you make happen, not some big shiny moment.
What inspires you/fires you up/gets you out of bed?
I get very excited about experimenting. Researching new materials, predicting how the material will behave with light and colour, and then completely proving myself wrong when I get the samples. It’s a form of play, but it’s also about trying to understand the nature of things, and the world around me.
When I apprenticed as a blacksmith, my maestro told me that making things is a game of chess - you have to think at least three steps ahead. This is an appropriate analogy for making, but also for being a creative entrepreneur, and I find these kinds of puzzles fascinating.
The fact that I have a tangible object at the end of my efforts gives me a lot of satisfaction - there’s a connection between the energy I put into something and it’s direct outcome. Every day is an opportunity to explore, fulfill curiosity, innovate and make something new.
I’m looking to bend and catch light in as many ways as I can, and glass lets me do that. Light is a fascinating material - it sings, it flies, it warms, and it creates colour in our mind’s eye. We measure the universe with light, and it’s speed is a mathematical constant. Catching light is something that artists, architects, and photographers have been preoccupied with for hundreds of years. Glass lets me sift and hold light, diffuse it into shapes, create volumes and patterns, hold it in my own way.
Glass and light are inexorably linked, and has a connection with our understanding of the world around us. Glass lenses and focused light opened up both the stars and the microscopic universe to us, so these are materials that are forever linked to exploration, experimentation and understanding.
How do you choose and narrow down colours or is the process serendipitous?
There are ways to generate and cast colour using physics, following certain predictable and repeatable patterns. Colour is like a musical note in a chord, or a ripple of a certain shape in a pond. It is something that shifts and changes depending on what happens to it - it’s context, how it’s perceived, or what interacts with it. Often times the colours I use change significantly depending on how or where they’re observed, so that gives my work an elastic quality.
I’m using geometry and optics to create colour, almost distilling it from light. Using microscopic surfaces to break light into colour through reflection, diffraction, and diffusion. It is somewhere between conscious effect and unintended consequence - once I start layering materials and phenomena to create and play with colour, there are some predictable outcomes and some surprises. Ultimately it comes down to a mix between theory and serendipity.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on several projects at the moment. I have a project in Graz, Austria in April 2019 called Klanglicht, a light and sound festival. I’ll be creating some photobooth-like installations around the city, capturing and refracting historic landmarks.
At the same time I’m launching a handheld iPhone lens, the Looking Glass, which layers multiple perspectives with optical colour. It creates these layered, colourful images in-camera without using any digital editing. I’ll be soft launching it with Klanglicht in April. I really love making things that allow others to be creative - this iPhone lens and my work in mirror let others create their own images - it’s great having these pics pop up in social media.
I’m creating a series of objects this winter for in-between.online in Istanbul - doing some research into Turkish design heritage, looking at how they use light and glass in architecture and the decorative arts, and working with local craftspeople. I love Istanbul and I love their team, so can’t wait to get to work.
I’m working on visuals for some really amazing musicians, ones I’ve admired for a long time, as well as some new, independent bands. These collaborations range from Hip Hop to classical piano, and each presents a totally new context to work in. Pairing light and sound adds a whole new dimension to what I do, adding time as a variable, and drawing on new kinds of inspiration.
I have a project with a car company in Asia and a public art commission coming up in the Middle East, but the details are still a little clandestine at the moment. NDAs keep me from talking about a lot of the big stuff.
Finally, I’ve just relocated my home and studio to Germany, in an old house outside of Berlin. It’s got a great studio space in the middle of the forest. It’s definitely haunted, so I’m in good company.
Where do you want to be in 3 years’ time?
I want to contribute more with my work - creating installations in public spaces for everyone to enjoy. I hope to find more venues to teach and share my experiences - some of my best times in school were helping my peers with their masters projects. I also want to do more charity work - I contributed to a project with Maggie’s Centre this past year, and next year will be working with Art with Heart, an AIDS hospice in Toronto. I’m creating a special commission for Music for Liberia (https://www.musicforliberia.com), which helps with children’s education in Monrovia. If I can bring a little wonder into people’s lives, and use this to help people in my own way, I will.
I would also love to collaborate more - I have shelves of sketchbooks filled with ideas for installations and objects. I worked with a ballet company on a stage design which unfortunately didn’t happen, and want to find a way to work with another dance company. I hope to continue to work with more musicians, institutions and brands, finding more collaborators and venues to share my work.
Lowest creative point?
I failed at many, many things prior to finding my way. I studied Art History at Trinity College but I was a terrible student. It was a disaster and a big regret that I didn’t pay more attention, try harder. I flunked out after a few years working towards a BA.
I moved to Santiago, Chile shortly thereafter to get as far away from that failure as I could. I taught english, learned Spanish, and decided to go back to school for Architecture after a couple of years. I was ready to take my interests seriously, but I’d set myself up for another failure - the language combined with the workload was too much for me. This was my absolute lowest - when I’d finally tried at something I wanted to do, I failed.
I realized through that process that what I really enjoyed was making the models, and experimenting with materials in real time. This lead to an apprenticeship with an artist and blacksmith, Francisco Gazitua, where I learned to forge, weld, and carve stone. Making was what I loved to do, and I discovered, in time, that I was pretty good at it. This set me free.
I can look back now and see that it’s not failures that define a person, but how they choose to move on from them that is our measure.
Highest creative point?
There’s a big thrill when you discover something, a new way of seeing, ordering materials, or capturing light. It’s a high and it’s addictive. (One that doesn’t ruin your life and make your teeth fall out.)
A little kid once took a look at my mirrors and said “ this is how aliens see us.” Best review I ever got. I also had my work in the same building as Yayoi Kusama (at the AGO Toronto,) which was probably my proudest moment.
Is there one person during your studies/life who has really made a difference to your success? – Maybe in terms of encouraging you when you were at a crossroads, pushing you in different directions, unlocking your potential etc
I believe that our successes are not just our own, but come from a series of opportunities where people put their trust and faith in you. I owe my career to a lot of people - Seetal Solanki gave me my first show out of school, Sabine Zetteler and her team are so encouraging and made sure that people saw my work. Floor Kuitert at Frame Magazine interviewed me for the first time, and put me in Frame’s exhibition in Milan. Melanie King invited me to participate in a project with Tate Britain, and she’s a genius. That was a huge honour.
I’ve loved working with museums, collectives, and curators - The Power Plant, the AGO, and Design Exchange in Canada have all been enormous supporters. Meeting like-minded individuals that take your passions seriously push your ideas further, and allow you to get ambitious. We often operate in a bubble in our studios, so these are opportunities to take feedback, reframe ideas, and get to know new people in your world. I would also be absolutely nowhere if it weren’t for my family making huge sacrifices on my behalf. I took a very long time figuring out what I wanted to do, and I’m very grateful for them.
What is your favourite colour?
My favourite colour is rainbow.