Studio Visit: Chris Fraser’s Otherworldly Light Installations

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with installation artist Chris Fraser. See the full studio visit and interview with Chris  and other West Coast artists at

When we visited Oakland-based artist Chris Fraser at his studio at Real Time & Space he first asked us to take off our shoes, then he turned off the lights. All of sudden, as I stood staring at a blank wall, feeling vulnerable in my not so glamorous socks, a bit of magic happened. Sharp lines of light cut through the darkness, drawing out a luminescent triangle where seconds ago there had only been an empty corner and bare walls. I moved closer. The dark room seemed infinite and the glowing triangle like a doorway. I had the urge to walk through it and the sense that I actually could, and that something extraordinary was on the other side.

Many of Chris’s site-specific projects are interventions into already existent architectural spaces in which he uses straightforward techniques to create unexpected optical experiences. Essentially, he employs the principle of the camera obscura to manipulate the way light enters a room. By strategically creating holes and slits in walls, he is able to coax and direct light into specific directions and shapes, transforming once familiar surroundings into fantastical, poignant spaces.

Experimentation is key to Chris’s process, and he thrives off the chance to create within different environments. Earlier this year, he had the opportunity to work in two distinctive spaces: a small box-like room at Real Time & Space, where he was an artist-in-residence, and the dining room in a soon to be demolished house in Cow Hollow that was opened up to multiple artists for Highlight Gallery‘s inaugural site-specific project, 3020 Laguna Street in Exitum. In Chris’s careful hands both rooms were reimagined, becoming portals to another world.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?

I tell them I’m an artist. And then I get out my phone to show them images. I don’t mind describing my work. I just don’t find it very helpful. There’s not much in our experience that prepares us to think about the world as a living image. So rather than describing the dry mechanics of how light moves through space, I prefer to show concrete examples of what it is capable of doing.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?

My work deals with the relationship between light and pictures. Most people are familiar with the camera obscura. Cut a hole in a dark box and a picture will enter. Cut another and a second picture will appear, similar but not quite in register. If you keep cutting holes you will eventually destroy the box, but the pictures will remain. They will simply obscure each other. Light is elastic and can be coaxed into various formations. For certain projects, I create environments in which people can directly experience this phenomenon. These spaces are often interactive, with the viewer a participant in the act of image making. For other projects I use elements of performance, video, and photography.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

I’m a bit of an itinerant artist. My projects develop in response to specific places. When asked to do a large-scale installation, I will treat the gallery as a temporary studio. I spend time in the space, paying attention to subtleties, working through ideas. I’ve had four proper studios in the past four years and each has suggested a new line of inquiry. There is something alluring about the thought of having a long-term, permanent studio space. The continuity would be welcome. But I fear that my work would become stagnant. I look at space and think about how to organize it and once I’ve done that, it’s difficult to re-imagine it. Ideally, I’d like to have a space large enough to house a few discreet rooms, places to test different projects simultaneously. I think this scenario could keep my ideas fresh. I’d also like an assistant. Soon.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?

Prior to graduate school, I didn’t have a studio. I worked out of my home, using it as a backdrop for highly autobiographical work. I made photographs that attempted to address the effort required to construct a stable view of the world from moment to moment. These images would often incorporate my observations about light, but always for the sake of a photograph. I didn’t really think that I needed a studio, but everything changed once I was given a space specifically for art. My work became sculptural. I started talking about what it felt like to experience the world as a living picture. Many of my interests remained – in perception, in light, in the camera – but the autobiographical elements disappeared. I was more interested in sharing an experience than in reporting back about my own.

How will you know when you have arrived?

I seem to be perpetually in search of the next thing. But financial stability and a studio assistant would be nice.

To read the full interview and see more of Chris Fraser’s work go to


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