The Light Show @The Hayward

As you might expect, this show is shiny. I don’t have a problem with that. I love shiny. I’m like a magpie when it comes to shiny. There were several pieces I wanted to steal and hang from my ceiling. Any exploration of light is going to prove how it can exist, visually, in three forms – solid, liquid and gas – and exist in at least three dimensions, tricking the viewer three ways to Sunday. This show does all that admirably, for the most part. But can it do more?

I must protest, briefly, at the poor staging of Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal (2005). McCall is king of the large-scale, projected light sculpture. Maybe I was spoiled by seeing his sculptures in Berlin in a room that was 50ft wide and 50ft high. In comparison, the shoe-box at the Hayward, filled with sweaty people, failed to impress, and didn’t do justice to the solid forms that McCall creates.

The child-like wonder that a well-displayed light sculpture can conjure was present almost everywhere else. From the 19,500 LED lights of Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II (2012)  to the single bulb of Bill Culbert’s Bulb Box Reflection II (1975), my inner infant quivered with delight. Along with everyone else, I stared at my own hands in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation chambers (1965-2013), which immerse the visitor in monochrome colour, and wanted to climb up Brigette Kowanz’s Light Steps (1990/2013), a stairway that led to nothing, but looked like it should lead to heaven.

Special shout out to Jim Campbell’s Exploded View (Commuters) (2011). It’s simple in execution and also incredibly low on energy usage, one of Campbell’s signature themes (‘low resolution’). Tiny bulbs dangle from wires, seeming to twinkle randomly like an array of stars. From the right distance and angle, the viewer gets the full picture. Tiny figures are walking past, created by the lights. The commuters seem to have purpose and direction, but watch for long enough and they’re actually just on a loop. It’s a window into two mechanized worlds, one an electronic creation, and one the real life of 9-to-5-ers. Cool, huh?

Apart from Campbell, is it just lots of cleverly arranged lights? Basically, yes. I’m sorry Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden (2011) was closed at my visit, as it’s the show’s concluding piece and might have packed a punch. Instead my last view was of Jenny Holzer’s MONUMENT (2008), a piece that only underlined what was missing from the rest of the exhibition.

MONUMENT is a semi-circular tower of rotating signs (think New York’s Time Square – she worked on its Spectacolor Board). Instead of advertising Coca-Cola, the signs feature text from declassified US government documents about the ‘war on terror.’  There are 35,000 words in total, but no matter where or when you look, you’re only seconds away from a killer phrase that tells the whole story. ‘Hit coalition forces,’ for example, or ‘Friendly fire,’ or ‘Collateral damage.’

I love Holzer’s explanation for her piece. She wants to be ‘explicit,’ she says. Wouldn’t be great if all artists were as brave?  MONUMENT‘s political statement comes at the end of a show whose basic message is, ‘Light is pretty’ and ‘Aren’t artists clever?’ I’m not sorry to say that I like my art to mean something.

Detail from MONUMENT (2008)

Detail from MONUMENT (2008)

The Light Show runs at the Hayward until May 6th 2013

Keep up with my blog – follow me on Twitter @bitesizedmary

About Mary-Claire W

Writer, reader and art fiend View all posts by Mary-Claire W

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