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Light Research @ MMU

Fabulous Melbourne Lightworks

An array of diverse and stimulating works that use light are scattered across central Melbourne. First of all, I revisited the wonderful work of Yandell Walton, who has reconfigured hedancer-2r melancholic work featured on this site two years ago at the city’s  Abbotsford Convent. At a site called Testing Grounds, a space at which artists of all kinds can experiment and display prototypes, Yandell’s work was situated in a container. The skeletal iron structure of the ceiling of the convent’s laundry is redeployed to serve as the backdrop of two different projections: on one wall, a dancer is projected against a surface of white bricks found at the site; on another wall of transparent fibreglass, external lights and the vague outlines of  people from outside meld with the projected shadows of figures moving across the surface.shadows1

At the city’s famous National Gallery of Victoria, a different kind of work makes use of the light from outside. Leonard French’s 40 year old stained glass ceiling, one of the largest in the world, is a vibrant kaleidoscope of intense colour. Visitors are solicited to lie on one of the soft bean bags to gaze upwards at the glowing, multicoloured array above them. Extending the art first initiated by the craftsmen working in medieval cathedrals, French’s masterpiece underlines the extraordinary potency of sunlight reflected through coloured glass. stained-glass-roof

Finally, two very different neon works offer very different effects. Situated in another room of the NGV, Tracey Emin’s ‘The Passion of your Smile’ is a synthesis of the answers provided in a questionnaire that the artist sent to Hollywood actor, George Clooney Rendered so as to mimic Emin’s own handwriting, the neon text vibrantly captures a variety of impressions: glamour, romance, urgency.passion

Danae Velenza’s work is sited in a very different location: a side street just off Melbourne’s busy Bourke Street. Like Lost Children we Live our Unfinished Adventures is literally rendered on a wall by eight neon sculptures in shorthand. The neglected but ubiquitous form of writing deployed to rapidly pin down meaning is honoured by being situated here in the CBD, echoing the endeavours of the city’s admin workers over decades.shorthand

 

 

 

 

 

November 29th, 2016 - 05:00am

Progress Illuminated in Blackpool

In current times, Blackpool is a seaside resort more typically associated with the past, perhaps through a nostalgic lens. However, two outstanding place-specific art works installed as part of the town’s Lightpool Festival (http://www.blackpool-illuminations.net/LightPoolWalk.htm) suggest how the town was once particularly future-oriented. In making works especially designed for the occasion, Mark Titchner reminds onlookers of how Blackpool was once a hotspot of modernism and forward thinking. plenty-and-progress

His Plenty and Progress and What Use is Life Without Progress recall that the motto of the town is PROGRESS. This was never an empty boast, and was underpinned by a range of historical developments: the construction of the remarkable Tower, the early use of electric light, the early adoption of a tram system, and the mechanical marvels and rides that still enthral visitors to the Pleasure Beach. Plenty and Progress is projected onto the façade of the Town Hall and these words are surrounded by a shifting myriad of animated light designs, foregrounding how the resort’s illuminations are also part of this modern thrust, and refuting contemporary prejudices that modernism was invariably austere and functional.  The inference is that Progress is productive of plenty, not just of food, commodities and work, but also plenty of pleasures too. The colourful embellishments also recall the beautiful neon illuminations that adorned the seafront in the 1920s and 30s, with their clear lines and curves, notably conjuring up the designs of Claudegan, whose designs on paper can presently be viewed in the Grundy Art Gallery. progress

Facing the seafront, the larger work, What Use is Life Without Progress, offers a bleaker, more insistent message, in which progress is conversely associated with compulsion and instrumentality. The very form of the display evokes an authoritarian form of propaganda issued by the state, urging citizens to strive for improvement. Two very satisfying and provocative works.

 

October 31st, 2016 - 11:55am

Neon Extravaganza in Blackpool

The current exhibition at Blackpool’s ever-interesting Grundy Gallery is The Charged Line, a riot of neon that comprises a survey of the multiple creative applications of this most prolific form of illuminated art. We have suggested before that neon evokes many symbolic associations, including the futuristic, nostalgic, seedy and commercial, and the works in the exhibition do trigger many resonances. It is difficult to do justice to the richness of the show so three examples must suffice.

green-pimpDavid Batchelor’s outlining of a encrusted, time-worn concrete mixer with garish green neon transforms a utilitarian object into a magical thing, highlighting its shapely form and drawing attention to its battered material form. Green Pimp, from 2006, also captures something of Blackpool itself in its combination of the earthy and the glamorous. It also reminds us of the labouring bodies and industrial machinery that typified the working worlds  of the places from which millions of tourists flocked to the resort in search of thrills and glitter .f-morellet

François Morellet’s three dimensional work, Triple X Neonly, occupies a corner of the gallery with six lines configured to form three cross-cutting X’s that conjure up the abject  areas of the city in which the sex industry prospers. Yet this work of geometric abstraction easily transcends these all-too apparent cultural references, providing an immersive work that bathes room and visitor alike in a warm red glow that dazzles and charms visual perception. More broadly, the work amply demonstrates how light art invariably radiates effects beyond the symbolic.kosooth

Joseph Kosooth, an early pioneer of the approach, joins other artists that feature in a room devoted to neon works that foreground language and text. His iconic work from 1965, Neon, blurs the distinction between an object and the word that represents it – since the word seems to be rendered in the very material that it describes.  However, what masquerades as a cool white illuminated form produced by neon is in fact filled with another gas, namely argon. Thus the sign does not in reality represent the word that it features.

The exhibition continues until January 7th  2017, and visitors are advised to include this masterful show in any outing to Blackpool Illuminations or a trip to sample the resort’s  many vernacular charms.

October 24th, 2016 - 20:37pm

Natural Forms in the City: Shells, Reefs, Trees and Dandelions at Leeds Light Night

On the 6th and 7th of October, with over 60 events across the city over two nights, the crowded streets revealed how much Leeds Light Night’s audiences enjoy the range of installations, projections and happenings on show. With  something for everyone, whether the lantern parade tradition or grand digital spectacle, this year’s programme was packed full of family-friendly, outdoor fun.

Setting an event against the night-sky might aim to fill it with light. I found the opposite attractive:  I was taken in by small scale and natural form more than the larger pieces.

spark

On a dry, clear night.The Handmade Lantern parade launched the festival with a water-inspired theme. Hundreds of people had lovingly made and wielded their own aquatic lanterns, complemented by large showpiece designs; conch shells-on-stilts, an animated tortoise and surreal fish riding bicycles. Lantern bearers were joined by thousands of onlookers who jostled for views or ran alongside the parade. The playfulness of the crowd melded with the striking drum patterns provided by World Beaters and their Spark! Show which led the parade through the bustling city centre, attracting more people as it moved along.

indestructible-reef

The Indestructible Reef, by Alison M Smith exuded much charm if you relaxed for a few minutes in its glowing company.  The work is made from re-cycled plastic and solicited consideration of all that subterranean wonders currently so appallingly threatened across our oceans. The lush and loving detail in this piece were juxtaposed with warnings of global reef collapse.

giant-dandelions

The Giant Dandelions at Merrion Gardens took a bit longer to woo me. At 7.30pm they were a pretty playground for young families, and happy as I was to  enjoy the atmosphere they inspired, I was after a more intense experience. When I walked through three hours later, I was rewarded for my patience; they had seemingly grown in size in glowing against the darker sky of the later hour. The illuminated St. Johns Church had also loomed into the night sky to provide a theatrical back-drop, and a late-night audience now contemplated life within a forest of lustrous orbs.

apparatus-florius

Having earlier chatted briefly to Tom Dykevere, I was intrigued at how his enthusiastic energy and worldly openness might personify his installation, Apparatus Florius. Designed for Park Square, it created a geometric structure which intersected the natural form of trees by connecting them with high-viz ropes illuminated with spotlights. An abstract soundscape, syncopated with choreographed lighting, created a mystical conversation within an intimate arboreal canopy.

Torn by the opposing need to to rush around to see as much as possible and the desire to relax into the experience, I was glad to find serenity in the pieces I saw.

By Gail Skelly

October 10th, 2016 - 21:39pm

Pudong: Before and after 10pm

The gigantic city of Shanghai has become something of a quintessential symbol of the rising urbanization of China. From the promenade that lies adjacent to the Bund, the long row of European buildings constructed during colonial times, the skyscrapers of Pudong, on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River, provide an illuminated spectacle that has become something of a cliché in contemporary representations of China’s surging globalization and development.shanghai-before-10-copy

This vertical  city can also be viewed from within, from the viewing gallery on the 100th floor of the World Financial Tower, which dwarfs the Jin Mao Tower and the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower that lie in the foreground, with the river and Bund serving as the backdrop. However, due to energy saving measures, many of the lights of these lofty buildings are extinguished at 10pm, transforming the  appearance of nocturnal Pudong. The two photographs show the view from the observation gallery before and after the lights are switched off, underscoring how illumination marks the nightly rhythms of the city. They also provide an intriguing aesthetic contrast, with the thick black shadows of the Jin Mao and Pearl Towers providing shapely dark forms silhouetted against the blaze of urban light when minutes before they served as dazzling, colourful points of attention. shanghai-after-10-copy

September 26th, 2016 - 21:26pm

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