Under Starlight

Under Starlight

Since the 2000s, British-American artist Anthony James (b. 1974) has been creating sleek, post-minimalist sculptures that use tricks of mirroring and reference to cutting-edge technology. The idea behind them is to evoke ideas of eternity, infinity and human conceptions of death. His new show beneath Marble Arch Mound, Lightfield, uses his signature reflective light-cubes to suggest an endless space-age forest.

Reactions to Westminster City Council’s expensive new tourist attraction have been decidedly mixed, with even generous assessments holding that the site needs time for its natural elements – trees, foliage – to bed in and provide cover for a somewhat ungainly structure. But James’s new show is located in the visitor centre beneath the mound, in a darkened chamber that places the visitor lightyears away from the bustle and controversy above. It’s like entering another world, filled with mesmerising patterns of light.

The installation is described as an “infinity room”, consisting of 12 “transmorphic cubes” formed from stainless steel, specialised glass and LED lights, placed in a square grid. The formal arrangement and use of light are reminiscent of classic minimalist works by artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. But what defines the piece is the use of inward reflection to transform the interior of each cube into an illusory void of endless glowing gridwork. The viewer is placed in the centre of a spectacle that seems lifted from science fiction, an infinite latticework like the power grid of some space-age metropolis sprawling off into the space. Isaac Asimov or JG Ballard might have found much to relish in the visual spectacle. Shifting colour schemes within the LED circuitry provide an additional element of optical dazzle, whilst James’ characteristic shiny surfaces hint at the super-slick aesthetics of 1970s conceptual and pop artists.

At the same time, James has spoken of his practice in relation to ecological principles, and in previous projects has used mirroring to evoke the creative force of nature — generating the impression of an endless silver birch forest, for example. He refers to his new installation as commenting on “the mycorrhizal nature of birch tree forests,” a nod to the processes of mutual nourishment that occur between certain tree-roots and fungi. In this case, the condition of “mycorrhiza” involves the connection of the LED cubes to a “single computer soul,” which functions as “a large canvas for light to dance around.” Ideas of technological and ecological force entwine, prompting us to look on James’ work as a meditation on the self-perpetuating, perhaps self-healing power of nature in the context of man-made climate crisis.

Anthony James’ Lightfield, represented by Opera Gallery, is supported by Westminster City Council and W1 curates. It is showing beneath the Mound in Marble Arch until December 2021. Click here for more.

Words: Greg Thomas

All images: Anthony James. Lightfield, 2021.