Review of Let There Be Light, Gazeli Art House, London

‘Seeping through the creases of the walls,
Gushing through the naked windows,
Let light shine down and through us,
Let it blur the definitions of time and space.’

These are the words which introduce the exhibition catalogue of Let There Be Light – the new show at Gazeli Art House, London. The exhibition brings together a group of works from international artists and design collectives which use the medium of light as their primary means towards creative expression.

While the show acknowledges the literary and historical associations which come to mind when met with the phrase ‘Let There Be Light’, it invites us to move away from these prior conceptualisations, towards an emphasis on the expressive possibilities of light ‘to surpass the outlines of space and draw on the purity of aesthetics’ in order to provoke ‘an inner state of free fall – the weightlessness of our past, present and future that merges all three in one timeless vacuum.’

Such a statements immediately appear to align the show with a minimalist dialogue where the medium itself becomes the focus for aesthetic engagement within the viewer’s consciousness, and where the subjectivity of the artist or viewer, or positioning of the work within a socio-historic framework, is resisted.

Indeed, from the outset, the show presents a minimalist aesthetic. Vittrio Corsini’s Sul finire dell’occhio (As the Eye comes to a close) is a series of monochrome paintings in bold primary colours which line the walls of the lower gallery. Each work is flanked by a neon tube which serves to subtlety alter the colour balance to one side. These ‘Landscape paintings’, as Corsini calls them, are where ‘the gaze goes to die’ – the persistence of our memory and imagination is suspended as we gaze into the void. They are reminiscent of the neon strips in primary colours executed by the minimal light artist Dan Flavin in the 1960s, and also of Ad Reinhart’s ‘Black paintings’. Corsini’s works, like Flavin’s glowing tubes and Reinhart’s monochrome voids, operate as contemplative icons seeking to erase the self through communion with pure colour, light and space.

In a similar respect, Sergio Calderon’s film and sound piece, Story of you and Me, presents a spherical shape composed of colour particles which revolve and morph before us. The work is evocative of a rotating meditative symbol or Mandela, and seeks to engage its viewers on an ‘innate level’. Like Corsini’s colour fields, the film encourages a suspension of the self within time towards a contemplation of the universal.

However, despite initially seeming to champion a minimalist, timeless aesthetic, the show rather frames itself within deliberately ambiguous conceptual terms. Paradoxically, it endeavours to release itself from the constraints of time whilst simultaneously seeking to consider the ‘immediate impact [of light] on our time and space around us’. Meanwhile, the catalogue proclaims to eschew a reading which casts the work within the former art historical developments of light art and minimalism, whilst inevitably presenting a direct connection to this visual heritage both in formal and conceptual terms.

Stanley Casselman’s Evolution-One-Emma is highly reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s ‘multiforms’. In formal terms, the large rectangular format and blocks of colour are comparable to Rothko’s canvases, yet Casselman develops this compositional structure by introducing the additional elements of light and time. The work is comprised of illuminated blocks of complementary colours which gently recede, heighten or bleed into one another. It projects and glows from within the darkened room, and assumes a sculptural quality as the light seeps gently from behind the textured polyester surface.

Through the introduction of the cyclical light-phasing which underpins the work, Casselman adds a temporal dimension which directly relates to the viewer’s personal and conscious perception of the piece in real time. In this respect, Evolution-One-Emma draws upon the themes articulated in another work within the show entitled Always/Never. In this sculptural relief created by United Visual Artists, the projection of light within a geometric structure gives the impression of a complete three-dimensional object subtly changing in colour and form. The piece aims to demonstrate ‘how passing units of time are somewhat artificial and highly relative’, and thus the artists acknowledge that the work’s appreciation is cast within the subjective experience of the viewer, rather than within a kind of visual objectivity.

Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces in the show is also one of the most unassuming. Henry Krokatsis’ Leaded Light comprises an amalgamation of found glass constructed into a latticed window of geometrical formation and it is the only piece within the show to utilise natural light. Consequently it highlights the way in which ‘light’ operates as the fundamental medium through which all our visual experience is mediated. Collected over the course of two years, each small glass pane dates back various decades and is visibly unique within the composition. The work refers both to the immediate present and intrinsic past as it simultaneously charts the modulations of light throughout the day, whilst also glancing back to the longer historical time frame embedded within the physical medium itself.

Through this deft conceptual blending of the time-bound and timeless, the show seeks to express the intangibility of its subject and also the fallibility of past art historical discourse in its attempts to contain or define it. As such, the exhibition offers a timely and thought provoking intervention into the conceptualisation of abstract light art today, casting fresh light upon the discussion anew.

Text: Hannah Foster

Let There Be Light, 14th September until 28th October, Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NN.

Credits: Always/Never, 2012, UVA, courtesy Gazelli Art House

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