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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.