Like a moth to a flame

We’re drawn to light, I think, in a primordial way. Before man captured and harnessed the power to illuminate at will imagine how consuming and defining the darkness must have been, how much space it would have occupied in the human psyche. Light represents life, hope and longevity in a unique and instinctive way.  With all of our invention and modern sensibilities we still originate from those first people ever to huddle around the flames of a fire, pulled into the flickering and brightness.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery exploits this very human curiosity with luminosity. Twenty-two artists display twenty-five works which utilise the power and vivaciousness of light in many varied forms. There are the familiar commercial LED word messages of Jenny Holzer, the flouro sculptures of Dan Flavin, unpredictably no Tracey Emin neon but plenty of other surprises. The opening piece is a glittering, blingtastic tower of multi-faceted moving light, shimmering patterns of silver light in an endless changing display. Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II is as irresistible as fireworks, I wanted to pick it up and deposit it in my living room. Further along is one of the poster images in the shape of Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez. Three interconnecting white spaces are flooded with blue, red and green light. Visitors move through the space and are bathed in each colour in turn, altering the perception of the space and each other in an instant.

Lots of the pieces require the viewer to move around, to actively search out different viewpoints, explore the shadows and the way light dances across our bodies. Anthony Mcall’s You and I, Horizontal is a room with a prism of light and artificial haze. You effectively walk into a film projector beam, becoming a star of the work and at the same time altering the sculptural form. To reach Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden you walk down a dark tunnel and are cast into a techno dream comprising strobe lights and a series of water fountains. The liquid is set as a series of crystal chandeliers frozen in the flicker; you will never have seen anything quite like it. The most haunting work was Katie Paterson’s Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight. It tells the story of a city in which we are bathed in the glow of man-made radiance, of light pollution. The moon becomes a myth; this room is self-contained museum exhibit.

Everywhere are the animated faces of adults. Expressions of delight were evident in every single person I saw. It was like being in a playground with a bunch of excitable, excited children. Purists will write this exhibition off as populist, lightweight and frothy. They are way off the mark. The greatest lesson to be learnt from this show is the power that light has in transforming our moods and our ideas of space. Light has the power to create architectural forms and alter the way we negotiate a room. Light can unearth secrets, make us dizzy and disorientated, create antisocial behaviour or pull people together. Light can be warm and comforting, sexy and thrilling, or threatening. It can be a combination of many things, but it will always be compelling.

Katie Paterson, Light Bulb to Stimulate Moonlight (2008)

Katie Paterson, Light Bulb to Stimulate Moonlight (2008)

Curated by Dr Cliff Lauson. On display until 6th May 2013.

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