Lucy Hardcastle is fascinated by the challenges and limitations of the digital experience and how it affects the human condition. Her busy London studio and research lab are at the forefront of exploring the tension between the physical and virtual worlds, bridging the gap with immersive experiential work. Hardcastle’s explore notions of tactility, visual illusions and sensual aesthetics through digitally rendered pieces, sculpture, set design and moving image that seek to provoke a physiological and emotive response for the viewer.
Could you tell me a little about your background, and how did that inform your creative work?
I was born in London but grew up in Norfolk; both my parents were creative and freelance, so I would consider it a creative upbringing, with lots of drawing and potato prints! One memory I have was of an educational video I had when I was very young, which I was obsessed with, that was all about how different types of animals give birth, which sounds creepy but to me makes a lot of sense to the kind of work I make!
I had wonderful high school art and textile teachers who really influenced and pushed me, and from there I went to LCF for my foundation.
What drew you to digital art and this interdisciplinary approach?
I’d say I was drawn to the sheer possibility, exploration and escapism that come with digital art. I loved that you could create an image that appeared ‘perfect’, and you could have total control over without necessarily needing a camera or a team involved.
What influences inform your work?
So many! I definitely take some of my work’s sensibility from the fashion world, as they really champion using your imagination and creating glamorous worlds to exist within.
I’d say I’m influenced by many worlds, from nature and biology to online subcultures of how younger generations create and share content.
What is the ethos of your studio?
We definitely have some beliefs or ways of thinking that underpin the studio’s practice that fit into the categories of Materiality or Technology. I always want to make work that challenges ‘the digital experience’ and how that affects the human condition, e.g. how can we use more of the senses, make it more immersive and ‘move’ the viewer, actually use tech to connect to what makes us human and breaks the tension between us and ‘the screen’.
Two really key ideas around this we’ve coined as ‘Radical Sense’, challenging what our senses our, how many we have, and how we use them within design, and ‘Tacit Knowledge’, which is the idea of using making processes to individually learn something about working with that material that can’t be directly translated.
Your work occupies a space that examines the boundaries between the digital, and real, the physical and virtual, to inform us better as we move forward with technology. What drove you into this space?
This space simply felt like the most exciting, disrupting area of digital/virtual design to be in at this current tipping point, everything I make feels somewhat influenced by what we believe to be digital. I do strongly believe there’s a loss of physical and tactile knowledge and understanding, due to the fact we’re touching and watching flat screens for most of our day. A great deal of my work is spawned out of the frustration I feel about the lack of tactility in the world.
An example of this which I feel is a direct trend is the #satisfying Instagram and Youtube trend, with the surge of ASMR that’s only now being considered on a scientific and psychological level. You have to question why we’re interested in watching highly textural content rather than doing that making process ourselves.
Materials are front and centre in your practice, how do you discover or invent new materials through your work?
I would say I look at the conventional ways, such as looking at innovations in the textile industry or playing with digital materials that are free online and then speculate from there. I love the idea of inventing new digital materials in particular, as I see these simply as layers of information, but I do believe that everything comes from somewhere, whether that is biomimicry or speculative design.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I’d describe my creative process as a kind of dissection when it comes to transforming a client’s idea into an outcome. I definitely like to think about new ideas with some weird music on and dark lighting – and really consider how you can make the most magical and entertaining version of what I’ve been briefed.
I’m also someone who really believes in the power of sketching and drawing; I feel like an idea can’t come to fruition until it’s been drawn out.
How do you seek to challenge the viewer through your work?
I would say along with challenging the viewer’s perception of whether something is real or not, which I feel in some ways we care about less and less; I want to create something comforting yet uncomfortable at the same time.
I imagine experimentation is key for you, how do you explore new ideas and is this done through personal work/client work or both?
I try my best to explore new ideas in both ways, as there are never enough hours in the day! In an ideal situation, I propose a weird idea that the client loves and we have some R&D time to explore it before production begins, but of course, that doesn’t always happen. Something that’s really important within the experimentation of my work is collaboration and bouncing off of an amazing team, as a lot of what I do wouldn’t be possible without others involved.
You have done a lot of research into the expanded senses and how to create visceral experiences for the viewer. What has been the most interesting discovery?
I think people’s reaction to my work can be very interesting and influences my practice; it’s the best market research in a way! Something that I’m always inspired by when learning about the senses is how little control we actually have over them, for instance, a scent that’s connected to a memory can transport you to that memory in an instant, whether you wanted it to or not, and in that way a brain is an amazing tool for unlocking associations or connections to our senses when we least expect it.
What issues do you believe we are facing with the tech revolution?
I think there’s still an element of fear in the current tech revolution, which is all about a lack of knowledge and understanding. For example data collection is an amazing tool for our health services to learn about our bodily functions and illnesses, but most of the time, sharing your data is deemed as something unsafe.
What have you learnt about human behaviour through your practice?
I have learnt that people’s reactions and responses are simpler, more selfish and animalistic than we think, I don’t think we’ve evolved as much as we think we have!
What do you want people to take away from your work?
The aim is definitely to have a physiological and emotive impact, several people have said my work has ‘moved’ them, due to the combination of visuals, sound and more.
Something that feels key for the user is to create an individual experience for each user, providing the tools for unique memories, or at least a ‘take away’ that’s personal to them.
Where do you want to take the work going forward?
I want to make more work within the physical realm, or work that’s applied to something that’s experienced within the physical such as installations, spaces, AR and Apps. I definitely feel there’s a lot more to explore within the ethos of my work, and that I’ve only really reached the surface of what my work can convey, in terms of challenging the lack of tactility in the digital world.