(Photos courtesy of Studio Sour)

Anahita Bradberry’s neon works have never been out under the sun at the Hester Street Fair before, but they’ve stood, bright and mysterious, under lots of other light sources: fluorescent gallery overheads, soft reading lamps, the natural afternoon rays that peek through windows. She began constructing glass neon sculptures a few years ago, a bit by accident. She had been assisting an artist in DC, watching him work with luminescent bulbs, when she became enamored with his chosen form.

She came up with the idea to barter: she’d do his paperwork in exchange for lessons. He taught her the art of blowing glass, bending it, and filling it with high-voltage electrified gas (it’s a rarefied medium, difficult to break into without direct mentorship like this). The rest is well-lit history. Her work—which tends toward the minimal, sleek lines and curves of illuminated color—has been shown in DC galleries and now in her new home borough of Brooklyn, where, for six months, she’s been running Studio Sour. The Greenpoint space serves as both a workroom for her and as a storefront for customers, those drawn in off the street by the glow.

It’s easy to associate neon with gaudy, sterile, urban spaces—how many “OPEN” signs, blaring and buzzing in doorframes, do we avert our eyes from on the way home from work? But Ani sees in neon tubes what most of us miss: that there’s a vital quality to them, an energy that’s anything but cold. That they can move, and change, and breathe, and die. “It has, at once, defined our commercial cultural experience in the city,” she says, “and is also the most amazing example of light quality.”

Ahead of her pieces’ Hester Street Fair debut (they’ll be for sale at opening day this Saturday, discounted from their usual price range of about $175-$300), I chatted with Ani about what people don’t usually understand about neon, and why it might be the thing your home is missing.

BB_Q(1) Tell me a bit about Studio Sour. How would you describe the pieces that you’re building there?

BB_A(1) Studio Sour is a shared studio between my art practice and my storefront project. [I work with] meditative colored light with minimal design. The amazing nature of neon tubes is that they are at once very organic—rare gasses, electrified with high voltage—and prefabricated. The glass tubes are hand-blown, bent, and put in wooden boxes.

The storefront is focused on art objects for the home, lamps for people who are interested in finding a contemplative moment in their home. It was mostly an effort to make part of my art practice accessible and affordable—not only easy to purchase, but easy to install. They don’t require anything other than an outlet.

BB_Q(1) Why minimalist pieces?

BB_A(1) The opportunities with neon are so rich, I do my best to let it shine on its own without getting in the way of it. Neon is usually overlooked as a kind of commercial prefabricated process, but all neon is handmade. Even the big commercial projects, or the scrappy “OPEN” signs—it’s all hand-blown, which is really incredible. And the medium itself is incredible.

The neon art that has really taken the art fairs by storm [is] the single word or sentence…with the exception of Farsi words, I really do not have any interest in working with text in neon. I think it’s time to take a step back, and enjoy this really natural type of lightbulb that hasn’t changed, technique-wise, in like one hundred years. [I want] to give a piece as much agency as possible, to function on its own.  

BB_Q(1) Can you talk more about the pieces having an agency of their own?

BB_A(1) I’m excited by the idea that the pieces are alive. They change throughout the day, depending on the light quality pouring in from outside, depending on the artificial light that you already have in your living room space or workspace…In a dark or dim space, it will fill up the room like gas. With bright gallery light, it becomes almost like a jelly…I like the chance and randomness. Most people don’t look too closely at a neon sign, but a lot of these tubes will create beading patterns—little beads flowing in formation throughout the tube, or sometimes the gas within these tubes wiggles around. All these phenomena are completely random, very playful.

They’re also, in the end, handmade light bulbs. So they have an expiration date, they expire. The range is eight to 15 years, but some last for decades, some last for five years. It’s completely unpredictable. That’s something I explore, conceptually, a lot more in my art practice—I treat them as living, vascular beings. They’re usually bent in biomorphic shapes, but also, in their own right, they are alive.

BB_Q(1) How do you explore vitality in your conceptual installations?

BB_A(1) I like to involve the body with my viewers — so for example, Gallery 102 in Washington was having an exhibition about the liquid pathways of immigrant and refugee migration, and for that, I created a large neon arc, dipping into a cube of water. The appearance of the piece is quite alarming—it’s electrified light in water. It’s actually perfectly safe and insulated, but it’s impossible to understand the safety of the situation as an outsider of the practice. I was very interested in putting the viewer on edge. […]

Parts of my background have given me great interest in fluidity and life-force. My mother is Iranian, she came to the United States when she was a preteen. There’s a lot of life-force behind Iranian culture. For example, the Persian new year, which just passed, is very much about rebirth and sprouting and plants being renewed—fertile images that are really exciting, that have shaped my subconscious. These were my main connection to my culture. Despite my lack of language abilities, [when I was growing up] I would have these ephemeral but formative cultural moments, defined by life and growth.

BB_Q(1) Is it very different to make art for something like the Hester Street Fair—where people will take the pieces back to their home environments—as opposed to making art for a gallery environment?

BB_A(1) I work larger when I know it’s going to be in a gallery context, but I still want them to be precious, objects that evoke a serious emotional response. Whether it’s peace, or—some people find them very erotic, and I would agree. People have really different tastes and completely different responses. [Selling the pieces at Hester Street Fair] allows me to get even more people involved. I’m excited to be presenting them in this format where it’s very communal, kind of chilled out. And to see them outside! They’re really fun outside.