The latest exhibition of the Hayward Gallery is quite hard to resist. If you're into scientific experiments and geeky installations, you're bound to find something that will excite your senses and curiosity. But the exhibition is also a joy to visit if all you're asking for is pure entertainment, disco and thrills.
The Light Show displays the works of artists from the 1960s to the present day who have used artificial light as a medium.
With all the word plays about light at their disposal (the journalists certainly had a field day writing about "stepping into the light", a "dazzling show", the "light at the end of the tunnel", etc.), the curators chose the simplest title at their disposal and I decided to borrow their minimal approach and visited the show without even reading the texts explaining the works. That was a first for me, and also probably a very dumb idea as i've missed most of the references and dimensions of the works. But i only realized it when i went back home and flipped through the catalogue (a little gem that one!)
Here's just a couple of my favourite works:
Ann Veronica Janssens' Rose is a room filled with fake mist that makes the intersecting beams of light appears as if they formed a luminous, tangible star.
Katie Paterson never puts a wrong foot. I discovered her work only a couple of years ago and she keeps amazing me with each new piece. Paterson plays with moonlight, melting glaciers, dead stars, grains of sand and Gamma Ray Bursts. Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight is a specially manufactured lightbulb that softly illuminates a small exhibition room with artificial moonlight, a light that, due to increasing light pollution, is almost never experienced in urban settings.
In the same way that lighting manufacturers created the standard incandescent 'daylight' bulb, Paterson worked with a lighting engineer to produce its opposite: a bulb that replicates the light emitted when the moon is in opposition with the sun. The finished artwork consists of a single, lit bulb together with a sufficient quantity of spare bulbs to provide a lifetime's supply of moonlight.
Carlos Cruz-Diez's neon-lit installation, Chromosaturation, gave me an almost physical understanding of the expression 'solid colours'. You walk from one red room to a green one, to a blue one. A few geometric shapes interrupt the monochromatic environment.
'Since the retina usually perceives a wide range of colours simultaneously,' Cruz-Diez explains, 'experiencing these monochromatic situations causes disturbances. This activates and awakens notions of colour in the viewer, who becomes aware of colour's material and physical existence. Colour becomes a situation happening in space.'
Ceal Floyer casually threw a puddle of light on the floor.
Bill Culbert's Bulb Box Reflection II easily tricked me. It looks like an incandescent light bulb and its reflection in a mirror but it's actually the opposite. The bulb's reflection is alight while the actual bulb itself is not.
The exhibition isn't overly socially-engaged, it is mostly sheer distraction from the grey London February. However, one of the works on the top floor is a huge stock exchange-style display of LED texts taken from declassified US government documents exposing the operations, interrogations and abuse that took place at Guantánamo.
Another politically charged piece is Reality Show. Iván Navarro invites visitors to step inside a phone box. Once you've closed the door behind you, you discover that the illuminated space above and below you seems to go on for ever. The sides have one way mirrors and when your eyes try to escape the vortex below and the one above, all they can find is your own face in the mirror. It's disturbing, with this infinite space that makes you feel isolated from the rest of the world. The work is a reference to the interrogation rooms and disappearances that characterized the brutal regime of Pinochet in Chile, where the artist grew up.
A couple more images and i'll close shop for the day:
Just for the title:
Previously: The Magic Hour.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM is aired tonight.
This week we'll be talking factory lines, outsourced production and the contemporary art system with artist Jeremy Hutchison. Last year, Jeremy was all over the blogs (including mine), newspapers and art exhibitions for his Err project.
The artist sent emails to manufacturers around the world, asking them to produce a fairly common item, a pair of shoes, a comb, a football, a spade or chair. However, he added a special requirement: the product had to be imperfect, come with an intentional error. Moreover, the worker was in charge of deciding which kind of error, malfunction or fault he would add to the item. Whatever the result, the artist would pay for the object.
The show will be aired today Thursday 14th February at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
This morning i went to the press view of the exhibition i was most looking forward to this month: Light Show at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition explores the experiential and phenomenal aspects of light by bringing together sculptures and installations that use light to sculpt and shape space in different ways. It's not just an exhibition of bulbs and luminosity, it's about colour, volumes, spatial perception, natural phenomena recreated using technology, kinetic and even politics. The artworks were created from the 1960s to the present by big -very big- names: Olafur Eliasson, Dan Flavin, Jenny Holzer, Jim Campbell, Philippe Parreno, Anthony McCall and Conrad Shawcross but some artists were new to me. Such as the brilliant David Batchelor.
As he explains in this video, Batchelor is interested in the colours that you find rather than the ones that you make. So he's been picking up discarded light boxes that typically advertise shops and restaurants (and that, he says, are one of the main sources of colour in a city), cleaned them up and mounted them to form a tall sculpture he called Magic Hour. The colours emanating from the light boxes are glowing against the wall and the public only see their reflection shining back at them.
The text in the exhibition guide states: Magic Hour is named for the extraordinary spectacle of light - a mix of sunset colours and the glow from artificial lights - that transforms the twilight sky above Las Vegas. This back-to-front stack of recycled light boxes, which once advertised shops and fast-food outlets, radiates a halo of multicolored luminance.
Magic Hour is stunning. You can't help but wonder if the 'recto', the side where all the lightboxes are glowing, can be as appealing as the rough, all wires and dark panels side you are facing. Probably not.
That's it for today, i'll get back to you shortly with a proper review of the exhibition. Light Show opens tomorrow at the Hayward Gallery in London. It will remain open until 28 April 2013.
This week, i'm trying something new. Cramming into a quick post the exhibitions i've seen over these past few days in London. Only the ones worth a mention, though.
Starting with Mark-ing which brings side by side works by British and Japanese designers. There are all sorts of pieces of furniture to sit on, a brain lamp and an ipod speaker but there's also Yuri Suzuki's Sound of the Earth and Moritz Waldemeyer's Wushu Sword. The Sound of the Earth is turned on so you can listen to it in the gallery. The super impressive (on video) kung fu LED weapon, however, just lays glowing on the floor.
Hurry up to Gallery Libby Sellers because the show closes on 25 January.
Next is The Uncanny at the Ronchini gallery. Berndnaut Smilde is showing Nimbus clouds suspended within empty rooms. The artist uses a fog machine and carefully balances the temperature and humidity to produce the clouds. He then quickly photograph the result before the cloud evaporates. So there wasn't any cloud to gape at in the gallery, just the stunning images hanging on the walls.
Now for something completely different, i finally visited the Grant Museum of Zoology. Mostly because i had read about the jar of moles which was as creepy as i had hoped. I hate to link to the journalistic disgrace of this country but the Daily Fail has a nice photo series.
The other night, i went to a talk by Chrystia Freeland at the London School of Economics. The title was the one of her recent book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich. Highly entertaining and informative (only thing is that i will never understant why it is more acceptable to mock Russian oligarchs than US or UK billionaires.) The podcast is online.
On my way to the lecture, i stopped by The Strand Gallery. They are showing the winning series of the Terry O'Neill / TAG Award, it's an international photo competition. I like photo competitions. I'm giving you the third prize, Marc Wilson's series The Last Stand which aims to document the physical remnants of war in the 20th century in the UK and northern Europe, and the shifting landscape that surrounds them, focusing on some of the remaining military defense structures situated around their coastal areas.
I'm picking up this series because it's in line with what the blog usually covers but the first prize Youth Denied: Young Immigrants in Greece, by Alessandro Penso, is stunning. As was this gentleman portrayed by Mimi Mollica for a series about Sicily.
Last Friday, i tried the London Art Fair. The press desk was supremely rude, the location horrid but the fair is promising. Prices were almost affordable and i discovered a couple of exciting galleries. Tiny selection of the goods:
Revolvers shooting at each other:
Finally, if the quest for the philosophers' stone keeps you awake at night, do check out Signs, Symbols, Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy at the Science Museum.
I've seen a depressingly high number of bland exhibitions this week. But then i also visited one that makes up for all these hours spent tube-ing and walking from gallery to gallery. Have a look:
The redeeming show is the first solo exhibition in the UK of artist and inventor Michael Joaquin Grey since 1992. You get the reason for the title, Orange between orange and Orange, as soon as you enter the gallery.
For Orange between orange and Orange, Grey has produced a group of new inter-related works that playfully transform the narratives and forms associated with the models and myths of Western science, art and spirituality into a multivalent personal cosmology and cultural map.
We're not talking about any kind of orange but about the bright orange i'd call '1970s orange'. Orange fruit is displayed inside a white anatomical bust, strange organic-like shapes are contained inside orange perspex cubes, gigantic orange worms crawl onto the floor, etc. It's playful, medical and disquieting at the same time.
A narrow, adjacent room is turned into a natural history museum display. Everything is rigorously grey but instead of taxidermied animals, the visitor sees a slice in the history of tv set design, with each specimen positioned according to size and chronology. Other pieces in this series of Morphologies show even more historic media devices kept secure behind orange-windowed vitrines.
But it's Grey's 'computational' films that kept me glued to the bean bags. So What is a generative film projected on two screens, a contemporary orrery in which the viewer repeatedly travels at exponentially increasing speeds from a pixel at the centre of the sun through outer space to the furthest reaches of the solar system and back again: a journey that compresses time and space to our perceptual limits. At specific way-markers in this media-saturated universe, the voices of Steve Jobs, Ella Fitzgerald, the Rolling Stones, Miles Davies, James Cameron, Marshal McLuhan, Werner Herzog and others are heard as a soundtrack reminiscent of channel surfing on an old analogue radio. I found it both relaxing and exciting.
Downstairs is Umwelt Belt, another of Grey's computational cinema works. Bland 3D shapes of usb stick, antenna, projector, wrist watch, alarm clock, and other pieces of mechanics or electronics we've all used and consumed at some point in our life are circling in a slow, perpetual abandon in the air. Uniformly grey and discarded like space trash.
Michael Joaquin Grey: Orange between orange and Orange is at the Carroll / Fletcher gallery until 16th February 2013.
SWITCH has an absorbing interview with Michael Joaquin Grey.
Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection are always eventful. I've seen sliced brain, freeze-dried brain, dessicated brain, two wax babies heads dissected, tin face masks for WWI soldiers disfigured by explosions and gunshot, i've learnt about the history of narcotics, read about a gentleman turned on by dirty maids, etc. Wellcome's exhibitions are dramatic and engaging but they are also impeccably researched and edifying. I can't remember having exited one of their shows without being fascinated by the amount of information their curators manage to pack in each room. Except this time.
The recently opened exhibition Death: A Self-portrait is entertaining, it contains some fantastic pieces and it definitely deserves a trip to the Euston Road museum but it is a bit light in reflection and cross-disciplinary references compared to what Wellcome has used me to. The show displays some 300 works -most of them being skulls- from Richard Harris's collection of cultural artefacts, artworks and scientific specimens devoted to the iconography of death and our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it.
The artefacts are grouped into five themes: "Contemplating Death" (a room full of memento mori), "The Dance of Death" (the 'many' faces of death, most of them are actually skelettons), "Violent Death" (artists representing the ravages of wars), "Eros and Thanatos" (the human fascination for death) and "Commemoration" (death, burials, mourning and their rituals). One moment you're looking at rare prints by Goya, next you find yourself in front of anatomical drawings, puzzling photos in black and white, ancient Incan skulls, or a gigantic chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones.
Dr Luis Crucius's drawings of skeletons animated a promotional calendar distributed to doctors by the US Antikamnia Chemical Company in 1900--01. Ironically, the company's antikamnia painkillers contained an active ingredient which was later found to be toxic and addictive.
Our (western) culture tends to keep death in the background. We have lost touch with death and its rituals (unlike, for example, Mexico which celebrates the Día de los Muertos in the most flamboyant fashion.) And since none of us has a direct experience of death, we leave its interpretation and representation to artists.
Death: A Self-portrait remain open until 24 February 2013 at the Wellcome Collection in London. Admission is free.