Beginning to see the light

The Hayward Gallery’s latest exhibition, Light Show, contains a handful of immersive pieces from artists like James Turrell, Anthony McCall and, above, Carlos Cruz-Diez that reward the viewer the longer they stay within the artwork

The Hayward Gallery’s latest exhibition, Light Show, contains a handful of immersive pieces from artists like James Turrell, Anthony McCall and, above, Carlos Cruz-Diez that reward the viewer the longer they stay within the artwork…

Visitors are advised to let their eyes become accustomed to the light in both Turrell’s Wedgework V room and Cruz-Diez’s vibrant walk-in installation, Chromosaturation, a version of a piece he has been making since 1965.

While Turrell’s chamber is a brooding and meditative place, Cruz-Diez’s series of three small rooms are a joy to move around, simply staring wide-eyed at the walls or, rather, at the colours that flood the space (made by sets of fluorescent tube lights with blue, red and green filters).

The space around each set of lights is dominated by that single colour, but things get really interesting in the areas where the colours merge and overlap. And just look what the green room did to my camera (below). I’m no expert on wavelengths, but something was going on – the visual equivalent of wub wub wub.

Anthony McCall’s piece, You and I, Horizontal, is also a beguiling treat (below). It’s referred to a “solid light installation” and, using subtle smoke effects, teases the viewer into thinking the beam of the projection is in fact a three-dimensional shape.

I must have pawed at it at least twice before I looked to see if anyone else was doing the same (they were).

Other highlights on show include Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV (shown, below), ostensibly a giant mesh cage with a moving light inside that projects through its walls. This, in turn, distorts the space inside the room to an unnerving degree.

Both Leo Villareal’s piece, Cylinder II (below), made from white LEDS and and mirror-finished stainless steel, and Cerith Wyn Evans’ columnal 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…’) make great use of the cavernous Hayward Gallery space.

But in as much as there are plenty of installations in which to bathe in colour and light, or stare at the shadowplay, the Hayward makes sure that you leave with your senses ringing, if you save the upstairs gallery until last that is.

Up here, in another large blacked-out room, is Olafur Eliasson’s Model For a Timeless Garden, which he first made in 2011.

There are no pictures of the piece I can find online that do it justice, suffice to say that it is a long, deep-set bench of working fountains of all shapes and sizes, bathed in the most intense strobe lighting I’ve ever witnessed. (The Southbank Centre recently uploaded the video below, which gives you some idea of the effect.)

Once over the pounding effect of the lights (which strangely become less of a headache the longer you stay there), the effect that the lamps have on the moving water is quite extraordinary: the light appears to freeze it as it moves through the air, making the whole arrangement look like set of rapidly pulsing sculptures.

As disorienting as Eliasson’s Timeless Garden is, I could happily have stayed in there much longer.

Light Show is on at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London until 28 April. More at the Hayward’s website and at the Light Show page.

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