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Light Show


Light Show is the first survey of light based art in the UK and brings together the most visually stimulating artworks created in recent years. Paul James went to the Hayward Gallery in London to take a look.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I turned up at the Hayward Gallery in London for a press viewing of ‘Light Show’ early one morning in March. Certainly, due to the fact it was only 9am (far too early to visit an art exhibition) my senses were not ready for the assault they were about endure. In a good way.

On the whole, Light Show creates a sumptuous experience, engaging the viewer in mesmerising illuminated environments over two extensive floors. 23 large-scale installations and sculptures by major international artists from the 1960s to the present explore the medium of light, reacting to the surrounding architecture and operating at the edges of the spectator’s perception.

Each artwork in the exhibition uses light in a specific way as material to sculpt and shape space.

Light Show gets off to a extravagent start with Leo Villareal’s ‘Cylinder II’ (2012), a Matrix-like display of 196,000 white LEDs endlessly changing patterns and shapes. Peaking behind this form of hanging rods is David Batchelor’s monolithic ‘Magic Hour’ (2004-2007), a stack of back-to-front light boxes that radiate a halo of multicoloured luminance. All good, powerful stuff that is more about the effect of light rather than any true social or political meaning. This would come later.

Iván Navarro’s ‘Reality Show’ (2010) is an expression of the artists’ experience of the Chilean regime as he was growing up in Santiago. A brightly lit, mirrored phonebox-like cubicle that emits infinite projections but the visitor’s own image mysteriously doesn’t appear. A clever trick with one way mirrors and LEDs.

Further highlights for me included Doug Wheeler’s ‘Untitled’ (1969), which consists of a darkened room in which a large light-encased square appears to float freely in space; Jim Campbell’s superb ‘Exploded View (Commuters)’ which uses a grid of suspended LEDs to create low resolution images of people walking across the piece; and of course, the obligatory James Turrell, this time it was ‘Wedgework’ (1974) in which the visitor must feel his way through a dark corridor before sitting in front of a wedge-shaped apparition formed by angled planes of coloured light. Dan Flavin’s piece, ‘the nominal three (to William of Ockham)’, is also included but this is somehow underwhelming in the face of so many other inspirational works. Of course, the colour mixing technique is always to be admired however.

Some of the installations were plain trippy and very disorientating. Conrad Shawcross’ beautiful ‘Slow Arc inside a Cube IV’ (2009) involves a complex play of moving light and shadows mapping the molecular structure of insulin. After a couple of minutes the moving patterns made me feel faint and I stumbled out of the room.

I only lasted 30 seconds in Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Model for a timeless garden’ (2011) before I felt sick and had to leave. The use of strobe lighting and water created another world of suspended droplets of liquid that looks like ice fountains. It was a world I felt extremely uncomfortable in. I think that was the idea!

Not all of the installations rocked my world. Anthony McCall (‘You and I, Horizontal’) and Ann Veronica Janssens’ (‘Rose’) use of haze to make beams of light visible, addressing the immaterial aspects of light gave me a distinct feeling of deja vu. Too much clubbing in the ‘90s perhaps.
Nancy Holt’s much admired recreation of ‘Holes of Light’ from 1973 left me cold. Much like her opinion of LED when she tried different light sources before reverting back to the original halogen when she wasn’t satisfied with the results.

Surveying the widest range of illumination sources, at Light Show cutting-edge lighting technologies, such as custom made computer-controlled LED lighting, meet ‘found’ illuminated billboards from street advertising that consider the role of light in everyday life.
The beauty of Light Show is that completely new works are on display alongside rare works of art. From being immersed in atmospheric installations to moving through intangible sculptures, the exhibition creates a sensual experience of light in all of its spatial and sensory forms. Individual artworks explore different aspects related to light such as colour, duration, shadows, natural and artificial illumination, and projection.

Light Show is an illuminated promenade, ranging from impressions of dazzling beauty to the use of light as a means of addressing more socially or politically driven concerns.


A grand entrance. The first installations that you see at Light Show are Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II - 2012 ((c)the artist. Courtesy the artist and GERING & LóPEZ GALLERY, NY) and David Batchelor’s Magic Hour - 2004-2007 ((c)the artist/DACS. Courtesy the artist and Galeria Leme, São Paulo). Photo: Linda Nylind

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