Light Show

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

Yesterday I went to the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre to see Light Show, an exhibition exploring ‘how we experience and respond to illumination and colour’. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the majority of the work on display, and not just purely as something pretty.

Leo Villareal_s Cylinder II (2012)
Cylinder II (2012), Leo Villarea

Upon entry Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II immediately captivated me, there seemed something magical about the way it played with the light. It was gentle and organic, and yet emanating from a clinical and mechanical structure. Cerith Wyn Evans’s S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E had a similar effect, through heat, producing the feeling that the structures were almost alive.

Cerith Wyn Evans S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (2010)
S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (2010), Cerith Wyn Evans

It was Anthony Mccall’s You and I, Horizontal where I felt things start to get really interesting though. This piece seemed to touch on altering the consciousness of the viewer through the need for interaction with it. Indeed the desire to touch the light was very strong and the eerie scene created by so many people walking in the light and haze was quite fascinating, for a moment I felt like I was in a film about near death experience.

Anthony Mccall_s You and I, Horizontal (2005)
You and I, Horizontal (2005), Anthony Mccall

Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc inside a Cube IV really impressed me. I could immediately feel something metaphysical being explored, geometry and physics combined to give a sense of various dimensions intersecting through the interplay of light, shadow and the observer. Again a piece that played with states of consciousness, bringing to mind Plato’s parable of the cave as well as Carl Sagan’s exploration of dimensions with reference to Flatland and the general ability of the mind to create perception within particular frameworks.

Slow Arc inside a Cube IV (2009), Conrad Shawcross

Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation may well be the most successful and interesting use of blank space for an installation I have ever come across. Again it played with perception and consciousness, although very simply, through saturation of walls and objects and observers with three different colours. I became very conscious of each colour with all of my senses, immersed in them, and there was a moment of transition between each space where I could perceive the colours mix, which was purely a trick of perception, that was quite delightful.

Carlos Cruz-Diez_s Chromosaturation (1965-2013)
Chromosaturation (1965-2013), Carlos Cruz-Diez

Ann Veronica Janssens’s wall-mounted work Rose had an immediate impact, with its eerie occult ambience. I found myself moving around the object, with the strange sense it was looking back at me. This was another piece that impressed me with how well it communicated the artist’s intentions. The light created a structure that seemed both material and immaterial, with a definite sense of the influence of altered states of consciousness.

Ann Veronica Janssens wall-mounted work Rose (2007)
Rose (2007), Ann Veronica Janssens

My favourite piece was without doubt Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden. This elegant beautiful work is an experience to behold. Every moment creating a cascade of sculptures in water, with time seeming to slow, I was mesmerised and very happy I don’t react to strobe lighting. I could have spent hours watching that piece. The effect played brilliantly with perception, utilising each moment it redefined to capture the ephemeral beauty of moving water. Neither photos nor film do this piece justice, I recommend actually seeing it.

Olafur Eliasson_s Model for a timeless garden (2011)2

Olafur Eliasson_s Model for a timeless garden (2011)
Model for a timeless garden (2011), Olafur Eliasson

I can be extremely sensitive to certain forms of bright light, so the displays involving strip lights really did not appeal to me. There were a number of other works that just did not appeal to my taste for other reasons, but in general there was a lack of pretension that was really quite refreshing.  I particularly enjoyed the way the majority of the work on display was actually able to communicate something of the artists intent, as this has seemed severely lacking in modern art in my experience.

I feel that altering states of consciousness is one of the most fundamental uses of art in a social context. In this sense I found Light Show very successful. Definitely worth seeing.


  1. Looks like a great show! I love the effect of light on consciousness and senses too, and installations can be good for this. Love the Cylinder 11, with its waving bodies of light! It is great that the pieces communicated the artists intentions. I also find post-modernistic clap-trap contrived, seems the order since the 90’s and gives artists the excuse to produce ‘crap’ because “it’s up to the audient to decide what it is!” Funding bodies have bought totally into it, and that is why we see so much ‘crap’. It’s time for post-post modernism I say!

    • Yes, producing incomprehensible crap seems to have been what the 90’s were all about in terms of art. I’m writing a longish piece about that actually. I feel that gallery artists should be attempting to express and/or create connections to the indefinable, the mystical if you will, expressing new ideas and visions to share with the tribe. I see art as potentially the most phenomenologically based and pragmatic form of religion, expressing through beauty and creating the context for actually experiencing something. Through art we can explore who and what we are and all things metaphysical without the need for dogma, because art seems inherently subjective. Aesthetics define everything; it’s time for art to take its power back.

    • I agree Janice. I think every artist should be open to magical opportunities, spirit allies, unconventional paths…. to get out into the wilderness and ground self in meditation, and listen…. to soul of earth, self and of collective consciousness and other dimensions and beings, to create art of beauty and depth. So much art today is just so superficial, looking at appearances and externals only. We are symbolic beings, and even our DNA is akin to mandalas.

  2. This is interesting, I wasn’t very aware of light shows, thank you for shining a light upon them haha >_>

    I have two reactions, the immediate and the moderate, to I’ll give you the moderately immediate, these light shows make me think of how our ancestors used light in the buildings and sculptures at significant times of the year, and shadows within carvings to give sculpture a different appearance as the day/year passed. Sophisticated indeed and I have not the knowledge nor the google ability to express the wonder and awe of how our ancestors used light, space and shadow to alter consciousness, from grand medieval cathedrals and their sublime stain glass windows to the mysteries of new grange. And many more I have not the accurate names for without further reference which Im too lazy to do.

    It makes me think in some sense these neon gardens are a pale reflection of this subtle art of light, shadow and architecture we seem to have lost. As the mystical alchemical sense of the universe totally gave way materialistic chemistry so too has our understanding of natural light and art gone over to electronic dense materialism.

    Though having read most of what you said and glanced at the light show web site I’m sure my cynical nature of all things neon may be just wrong. Even though I worship the neon glow too much. The water light sculpture fountain thing sounded nice !

    • We are nowhere near the sophistication of our ancestors in terms of our art and our approach to consciousness. They had an appreciation of beauty and wonder and reverence for life that we need to reclaim if we are to survive as a species and create anything worthwhile. Yes, a pale reflection, but a start. The fountain was the closest any of the artists came to using nature as a means of expression. I would have liked to have seen some stained glass windows, or carvings.

    • I have two words Gobleki Tepe, The oldest representation of the Gods, a temple complex beyond awe inspiring. How they buried the site so carefully, God damn, I just love things like this too much ! How we think the big T’s were gods, they didn’t carve the face of Gods just left them blank, then you have the light relief of arms and loin cloth, animals and anthropomorphic figures abound, its such a work of genius. More so than the pyramids and stone henge and much more mysterious.

      Man can not live by bread alone comes to mind, Art may arise from a deep place of truth and experience, less popular more appreciated and needed. Or fit into the net of the consumerist ego trend of the day, fleetingly popular, having little to nothing genuine to say about the human experience, apart from the vapid nature of ego based self indulgence.

      I think art can wake people up in many different degree’s from the subtle to the profound in my observation and experience such effects have been long lasting and positive.

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