The blurb on the exhibition website instantly brought to mind Dan Flavin and his fluorescent neons. I have a thing for Flavin’s neons, nurtured by parents’ tendency to put bright neons in our flat – if you travelled to Asia, you would understand! The last time I went to the Hayward gallery must have been for the (disconcerting) ‘Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms’ show in 2008; no show at the Hayward has attracted my attention since – until now. Seeing the Light Show piqued my curiosity and made me want to learn more about kinetic art.
The Light Show – little imagination in the title – is an exhibition on the use of light by artists since the 1960s. Diverse aspects of light are shown in the exhibition, including performance and kinetic art. I should have guessed, reading the comment on the notice board, the show defies our vision as “our least reliable sense”, that there would be some optical effects to challenge our vision and balance… NY artist Leo Villareal provides the opening piece (Cylinder II) – the garishness of the lighting reminded me of a cheap hotel.
While Villareal’s work was controlled by “invisible” computer programming, London artist David Batchelor exposed the workings in the back of his piece and multiple electrical cords. Evans’ Superstructure exposes the light bulbs without light and the process of the bulbs slowly lighting up. His work also hinted at performance art, in the sense of a live artistic event. Performance art is likewise found in McCall’s light “sculpture” (You and I, Horizontal), a powerful and solid-looking ray created by light from a video projector and artificial mist, in which visitors are invited to immerse themselves.
Performance art and even op/kinetic art are displayed in Campbell’s Exploded view where human forms are distinguished walking among the mini LED bulbs blinks. Op art, also referred to as optical art, employs optical illusions, while kinetic art contains movement discerned by the viewer. Optical and kinetic art originated from the ‘Movement’ exhibition in Denise René’s Paris gallery in 1955, while broader perceptual art sprung up at ‘The Responsive Eye’ exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1965. Optical art is certainly in Shawcross’ work playing with moving light and shadows – beware those that suffer motion sickness!
Overall, the Light Show turned out to be an engaging exhibition displaying various approaches to light: shadows created by light (e.g. Shawcross); light as sculpture (Janssens, Mc Call); light diffused to create atmosphere (Flavin, Paterson, Wheeler); and the combination of bulbs or neons to create an art work (Parreno). Notions of space, vision and light relate to kinetic art. The only other time that I have come across kinetic art was at the Malba (the LatAm modern art museum of Buenos Aires) but it seems to have come back into fashion, as the Grand Palais and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris are both currently hosting kinetic exhibitions. Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden, conceived with strobe light illuminating flowing streams of water, is clearly the Light Show’s pièce de résistance but my motion sickness prevented me lingering too long! The exhibition ends 6 May.
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