30th January 2013 — 28th April 2013
In this part of the world we are totally surrounded by electrical illumination.
From the lighting that brightens our homes to commercial signage, from the traffic lights that annoyingly stop us at junctions to the strip-lighting that keeps offices and factories running long after the sun has set.
By and large, we don’t give it a second thought until a blown bulb, or even a total power cut compels us to see the phenomenon for what it actually is and consider the effect it has on us.
The curators of Light Show have brought together pieces and environments dating from the sixties onwards that use light as a medium, either for its own sake, for its effect on its surroundings, or as a means to another end, and sometimes all of the above.
One of the smallest and simplest pieces here, Bill Culbert’s Bulb Box Reflection, 1975, nevertheless gets us thinking. What appears to be a single incandescent lamp sits in a holder in front of a mirror. But the image of the bulb in the mirror is shining whereas the bulb itself is not. Solving this conundrum finds us carefully scrutinising those tungsten filaments in their glass globes, the grandkids of the granddaddies of modern electric lighting.
Leo Villareal’s Cylinder ,2012, is more complex. Looking from a distance like strands of tinsel dangling from concentric hula hoops. It consists, we are told, of 19,600 shimmering, pulsating quivering, oscillating white LED lights, programmed to
never repeat their patterns. Technically breathtaking, and endlessly fascinating.
Similarly epic and rather forceful, with a lengthy title that borrows lines from a poem channeled via Ouija board,
Cerith Wyn Evans’ S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E, 2010,
consists of three throbbing columns that look like something out of Metropolis. Constructed from incandescent strip-lighting tubes, they gradually brighten then dim again in a continuous cycle.
My only problem with Ouija™ is I find it difficult to shake the association with other HASBRO products such as Mr. Potato Head™.
Cute, but not terribly occult.
One thing is sure though, when those columns reach their brightest point they don’t half get hot!
Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal, 2005, a totally immersive piece, creates what appear to be solid shafts of light using a slowly changing projector beam shining through smoke. A reversal of the usual cinema process, the effect is best seen by looking in the direction of the projector, and gets more interesting when the spectators cut into the beam with their heads and wave their hands about.
Waiting in the queue to experience James Turrell’s Wedgework V, 1974 , we get the chance to get distracted by Jim Campbell’s Exploded View (Commuters), 2011, which appears to be nothing more than a three dimensional rectangle of pulsating white dangly bubbly balls. Step out of the queue, and a bit of walking about and squinting will suddenly reveal dark silhouettes trudging along that disappear when you move again and you’ll imagine you imagined it.
Wedgewood V is a very quiet piece in a darkened room. The colours are subdued, the light natural-looking. It’s a bit like a three dimensional version of a Rothko. I’ll make my excuses now: I’d probably been spoiled by Villareal’s pyrotechnics. The room was packed and there was nowhere to sit, so I was crouched on the floor craning my neck a bit. I’d been concentrating on the work for five minutes when a baby a man had brought in yawned loudly and everybody laughed. At this point I left, promising myself I’d go back in again later.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, the works of Dan Flavin, another pioneer of this genre, have also been outshouted by some of the newer kids on the block.
The influence of his signature piece: Untitled (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow), 1966-8, using reflected, rather than direct coloured light is clearly evident in David Batchelor’s Magic Hour, 2004/2007.
Batchelor’s assemblage, intended to recreate dusk in Las Vegas, uses coloured gels on found lightboxes, which face away from the viewer, reflecting the desired hues onto the wall. The boxes are tatty, and half a dozen improbably bulky coils of cable complete the scenario. The evocation is substantial and satisfying.
Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc inside a Cube IV, 2009, also has a rather complex backstory that’s worth looking into if you get the time. Mechanically speaking, an illuminated armature slowly revolves within a latticework cage, moving the shadows around the white walls and ceiling of the room, creating the illusion that the dimensions of the room are constantly changing. It’s a bewildering, intriguing experience.
There are twenty-four pieces in all, and the beauty is that most of the work can be related to in a number of ways. You can go with the conceptuals, puzzle over the mechanics, give in to the pure visceral pleasures, or you can shamelessly video the whole event to within millimetres of its existence. Armchair polymaths can do all of the above.
That makes for an extremely broad appeal, pulling in a diverse mix of spectators, which is why the organisers have had the foresight to impose a timed entry system.
A palpable enthusiasm runs throughout the gallery, a barely repressed excitement. You have to feel a little for the invigilators, though, fruitlessly asking us to stop filming the copyright-protected stuff on our smartphones.