‘Light Show’ at Hayward Gallery

Leo Villareal, Cylinder, 2011

Leo Villareal, Cylinder, 2011

Artists have explored the effects of light probably as long as there have been artists, but it was the advent of electric  light that made it possible for them to make work entirely out of the medium of light itself.

The exhibition currently on at the Hayward Gallery brings together a collection of works made in the last 50 years, starting with works made in the 1960s when it was radical enough for Dan Flavin to simply use off the shelf neon strips stood on their ends and grouped together like columns.  I’m afraid though that these didn’t detain me very long.

You and I, Horizontal (2005) by Anthony McCall on the other hand kept us fascinated for ages.  In a dark room, a light is projected onto the back wall; the light is a slowly moving line describing an ellipse which breaks into lines and curves.  Artificial mist gives the light rays a three dimensional sculptural quality.  You can walk through the light, change your perspective and see cones and angles and wonder at the feeling of being on the outside one moment and then on the inside at another.  You go from trying to work out how the effect is achieved to simply experiencing it.

There are a number of works which remind us that sight can be the most unreliable of our senses, when our brain makes us see something which may not actually be there in its efforts to interpret the observable clues.  One way and two way mirrors either eliminate reflections or repeat them infinitely.

The one overtly political work, Reality Show (Silver) by Ivan Navarro, is a shiny Tardis like structure which visitors can stand inside, on top of what appears to be infinitely repeating reflections, but where their own reflection disappears.  As everyone waiting outside for their turn can see the person inside, there is a voyeur/subject relationship which speaks to the political situation  in Chile when the artist was growing up.

Many of the works were intriguing, where the visual impression depended on the combination of where the image was in an ever changing cycle as well as the position of the viewer, sometimes requiring us to move around and wait patiently to see the overall effect.

There were a fair number of flashing aggressively bright lights and some strobe effects which I cannot properly evaluate as I found them too difficult to look at, but overall I found the whole exploration fascinating.  If you do go, go early, as there is a limit to the number of viewers allowed into some of the rooms at one time, and queues were already forming by late morning on a Wednesday.

And then there’s the plastic overshoes you have to put on to enter a couple of the installations, where the floor covering was apparently part of the overall immersion experience; regrettably neither of these works did much for me, although Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez was so penetratingly bright that it did induce a near immediate headache.


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  1. That last bit made me giggle – the special shoes and the headache. You’re great at reviews where I don’t feel like I’m just getting an abridged version, but a true experience.

    • Thank you. I do try to convey a personal reaction to what I see, if only because I don’t have much of an art education and am picking it up as I go along.


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