Could this be the ultimate date exhibition? When I visited ‘Light Show’ at the Hayward on Friday night, there were an inordinate amount of couples ‘ooh’-ing and ‘aah’-ing in front of the awe-inducing light installations scattered around the gallery spaces. When the gallery closed at 8pm, they must have drifted off to the South Bank bars, no doubt ready to discuss their favourite works while staring into the light of each other’s eyes.
Cerith Wyn Evans, 'S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E' ('Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…'), 2010. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and White Cube. Photo: Linda Nylind.
And there is much to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about. The exhibition’s works – by and large – are very enjoyable. But moving from room to room to experience a new arrangement of artificial light, I got a slight feeling that I was at a fairground. People would come out of rooms saying, “That one was a bit crap, let’s go to that one again”. I suppose an exhibition of such obviously ‘experiential’ art works will always lead to impatience, where the more subtle pieces on view – those works that are less spectacular but reward a prolonged look – are quickly seen as deficient in contrast to the showstoppers. Sometimes the arrangement of the exhibition doesn’t help: for example, Dan Flavin’s seminal 1960s arrangements of neon tubes, a cornerstone for contemporary light installation, is presented in a through room, almost a corridor, encouraging the viewer to walk right past.
Carlos Cruz-Diez, 'Chromosaturation', 1965-2013. © the artist/DACS. Cruz-Diez Foundation. Photo: Linda Nylind.
Examples of the quieter sort of installation included Katie Patterson’s single light bulb hanging in a room (2008); the Glasgow-born artist had worked with an engineer to directly replicate in artificial light the tone of the moon. The light is beautiful and the gesture noble, motivated by the fact that people living in towns and cities seldom longer experience the light of the moon, ironically thanks to artificial light. This was one of several works to remind viewers of the occurrence of light in natural phenomena, others including the wondrous Cylinder II (2012) by Leo Villareal, where a waterfall of 19,600 LEDs looked like falling snow or the stars at night.
Anthony McCall, 'You and I, Horizontal', 2005. © the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London. Photo: Linda Nylind.
Two of the aforementioned showstoppers focused on the theme of perception. Olafur Elliason’s Model for a timeless garden (2011) used a strobe light to illuminate a row of fountains that varied in form. The giddy viewer sees conglomerations of droplets weirdly frozen in individual moments in time, morphed into weird and wonderful shapes that in a different light could not be discerned. Chromosaturation (1965–2013) by Op Art pioneer Carlos Cruz-Diez comprised three adjoining spaces, each lit by very strong artificial lamps in blue, red and green respectively. At first one is taken aback by the strength of, say, the green in the room. But very quickly the eyes acclimatize and the strength of the green evaporates to a point where it seems mild at best: a perfect illustration of the way our senses adapt to different light circumstances.
But the most memorable work in my mind was British-born, New York-based Anthony McCall’s semi-conical light projection (2005) installed in a dark room filled with a light, artificially generated mist. The mist helps transform the projected light beams into something akin to a sculpture that hovers tantalizingly in the middle of the room. Light here has a palpable, three-dimensional presence in itself.
- Light Show
is at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April 2013