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Michael Fullman's 'Bardo' Probes the Physicality of Light

Picture of Ryan Kristobak
Music Editor
Updated: 12 July 2017
This article serves as one piece of a four-part video series focused on the 2016 Day For Night festival hosted in an abandoned post office on the edge of downtown Houston, Texas in mid-December. A previously unseen combination of headlining musicians with gigantic, immersive art installations by world-renowned visual artists, Culture Trip investigates how Day For Night is establishing the festival of the future, and the works of those involved.

Throughout the course of Day For Night’s weekend run, there wasn’t a moment when anaconda lines weren’t serpentined throughout the old post office’s floors in anticipation of the festival’s two visual heavy-hitters: Björk Digital and London-based collective United Visual Artists’ Musica Universalis. However, when it came to audience interaction, Michael Fullman’s installation was the clear king.

Fullman is the Creative Director at VT Pro Design, a full service creative design firm whose work includes projection mapping, media management, lighting design, and advanced interactive technology in the live entertainment and music industries. One of the artists Fullman has worked with in the past performed at Day For Night’s inaugural festival in 2015, and he connected with the DFN team shortly after the weekend in order to put in his bid for 2016. The result: Bardo.

“It’s an interactive-driven lighting piece that focuses on the sculptural elements of lighting design, and also at times is active to track audience members as they actually walk through the piece and create the environment based on their motions,” Fullman said.

Featuring 105 stage-ready lights and 42 strobe lights arranged along an arch consisting of about seven or so rows, Bardo was an ever-evolving installation. At moments, beams of light lazily panned down upon those standing underneath, bathing them in shades of white, blue, red, and a Mardi Gras goulash of gold, green, and purple. Every so often, there were time-coded sequences that were scored by Fullman’s friends Bedtimes (Conor Grebel), Mr. Carmack, and Lorn. And sometimes, as previously mentioned by Fullman, the beams of light were triggered by attendee’s movements, like when they spotlighted the person present along each row, following them at every turn like a helicopter tracking a fugitive on the run.

For Fullman, seeing how each person reacted to the different sequences was the most rewarding part of the whole project.

“It’s funny, watching it, half the people want to avoid the lights and half of them want to be in the lights, so it’s kind of this weird dance around where people are kind of finding how they drive the entire piece and then reacting to it,” Fullman said. “I feel like anything we do as an interactive design, it’s always a learning process every single time. There’s no solution. Just watching the crowd last night versus the crowd tonight versus the crowd tomorrow night, it’s all going to be different.”

Fullman continued: “I just want people to be inspired that actual physicality of light, and take away something from that. I think that everyone’s kind of getting a different visual experience based on where they are in it and the people around them. More than anything, I just hope that people are talking to each other about their experience with it.”

In 2016, Fullman’s projects have included designing Martin Garrix’s Ultra Miami closing set on the main stage and the full production design of PartyNextDoor’s Summer’s Over tour. He’s worked with a number of other high-profile artists like Kaskade and Linkin Park, in most cases, designing the complete show from lighting to video to choreography of the performance. While he has his sights set on adding a more experimental artist and a metal show to his résumé, Bardo still isn’t complete in his mind.

“Honestly, with our process on it, I would love to do this piece again, take what we learned here, and make it even bigger,” Fullman said. “I would make it three times bigger, at least. Also, it’s more of an interactive art piece when we control the flow through it even more so than we did in this case. But it would be amazing to see it as a longer tunnel piece that allowed so much more distance of travel.”

But whether Fullman returns in 2017 or not, he’s still excited about what an event like Day For Night means for the future of festival culture.

“We go to music festivals all around the world, our entire team, and I think that what’s happening here is really unique and different than anything I’ve ever seen,” Fullman said. “The great thing about this festival, and also the space of it, is that everywhere go there’s all these little inspirational hints. It’s just kind of these, ‘oh, shit,’ moments.”

Check out the other parts of this four-part video series on the 2016 Day For Night festival:

Day For Night Isn’t the Music Festival of the Future, It’s an Evolutionary Jump

How Magick Helped Damien Echols Survive Death Row

AV&C + Houzé Explore the Boundaries Between Projection and the Physical in ‘Phases’