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> > > Review: Light Show at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

5 February 2013

image of an sculptural light installation

Leo Villareal 'Cylinder', 2011. © the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Gering & Lopez Gallery, New York

Light Show brings together sculptures and installations from 22 artists who use light to sculpt and shape space. Richard Downes is disturbed and illuminated by this exhibition of immersive environments, free-standing light sculptures and projections on show at the Hayward Gallery, London until 28 April 2013.

Warning this show includes strobe lighting and artificial mist

Your reviewer sits obliterated by light immersion, delighting in the sugar rush of exorbitantly priced Southbank Centre pop and cake. I’m physically altered. Maybe it’s the glasses. Glasses on, or glasses off is an important question to me. My pace and step are determined by whether or not I wear them. I’m continually forced to ask this here. Jokes, illusion, hallucination. Eyes are drawn to or shy away from light. Do my glasses draw me in too much? Is surface dust affecting what I think I see?

To show light there must be darkness. I arrive in a dimly lit gallery populated with excitable press. We mingle in artificial light, meet artists and play in the dark. The first thing I notice is my shadow. I love my shadow. Especially outdoors, when it strides ahead and wind tousles my hair. I now have two sneaky shadows creeping up behind me. A tall one and a smaller one. I recognise neither. Ceal Floyer makes me laugh. ‘Throw’, a simple exhibit, throws a splat mark onto the floor. Recalling Yoko’s rag I step on it. The light covers my foot. Splat is thrown no more, not whilst my foot stays there, at least.

Antony McCall’s ‘You and I, Horizontal’ is the first dark room I venture into. There are many. I freeze. A projector hurls beams across the room. I am unsettled whilst other people walk blithely into the beams, so I follow. Who knew light was physical. Not I. I walk through lines of light, moving tunnels, where the air, what there is of it, moves smokey light towards me. After shadows, these cliffs bring my attention to heat. Light makes heat. Even in winter you do not need coats in this show.

Jame’s Turrell’s ‘Wedgwork V’, demands time. Follow the dark corridor. Keep your hand, right, on the wall, turn twice, find a seat in the viewing area. Become accustomed to the dark. Carefully watch the light. Spend time here, see light move. Watch red become blue, blue become red. I realise I like the dark. It’s a friendlier shade for meditation and sleep.

At Conrad Shawcross’s ‘Cube IV’, I catch myself whooping. Walls move and change shape. Light creates shadow, light moves shadow, shadows have secrets.  My whoop came from a history of seasickness. Boats upset me. Moving light can do more harm. Be careful here.

Light holds colour’s spectrum. I take it for granted. So what happens when light is controlled to show but one colour. Carlos Cruz-Diez has three chambers, designed to disturb for Chromosaturation (1965-2013), a red, green and blue one. Dust seems to collect and waft before me. Do I have cataracts or is it my glasses. Distance becomes important. How close is the wall? Colours stay constant but I believe they change. The Light Show specialises in trickery. I become ever more deceived, duped and playful.

For me the most important artist here is Ivan Navarro of Chile whose works imbibe lived political experience and understanding. Do you know light is used in torture? I saw it on The Professionals (older persons remembered TV). A single light swings metronomically in a dark room. Navarro is more clever than that. Light, smoke, mirrors, restricted space. His work keys into fear. His comment on the value of skyscrapers as tokens of grandeur within repressive regimes encircles the word ‘Burden’. On whom? The builder, the upholder, those of us who meekly hide within the shadows?

I enjoyed more work here than room there is room to comment on.  Visit. Be manipulated. Don’t wear a coat, bring a sandwich and decide in advance about the need for glasses.

Light Show is on exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre until 28 April 2013. Visit www.haywardlightshow.co.uk/ for further details

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