Featuring the spatial-temporal, light-based work of James Turrell, Jim Campbell, Casey Reas, Pablo Valbuena, Stanley Casselman, Refik Anadol, Amy-Claire Huestis, John Carpenter, Dominik Stauch, Kurt Ralske, Robin Fox and Chul Hyun Ahn
* Turrell is courtesy Tim Yarger Fine Arts
“There is such a thing as the impression of luminosity” –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Life as we know it would not exist without light. It is the very embodiment of the life-force, the fountainhead, and perhaps the very root of all material in the known world as some philosophers and poets have argued. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the image of light has remained a potent symbol for mankind—one that has been used for over 4,000 years as the very representation of power, truth, knowledge, love, peace, health, unity, and the highest state of being.
Therefore it is hardly surprising that it has played a crucial role in the history of art, whether we’re talking about the discovery of the camera obscura in the 4th century, which ultimately led to the dawn of photography in the 17th century; or the sumptuous and/or symbolic use of light in the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer or thousands more. However, with the emergence of the Modern age—and the introduction of the electric light bulb—the idea of light began to change in the 19th and 20th centuries. Impressionism for instance, which signaled a major shift in conceptual approaches, was dubbed “The birth of light in painting” by Robert Delaunay. And not long after that the legendary Bauhaus professor and artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, began projecting light through sculptures, which later became known as one of the earliest forms of “light art.”
For those artists the ideal was to capture light and make it tangible. Perhaps Otto Pienne’s comments about his “light ballets” of the mid 1960s summed up the idea best when he said, “There is one essential difference between Gothic Cathedrals and rockets: a cathedral seems to soar, expressing a yearning for ascension, while a rocket does soar. The same technical difference exists between traditional sculpture and light works. Previously paintings and sculptures suggested a glow while today paintings and sculptures do glow. They are active, they give; they do not merely attract the eyes, they do not merely express something, they are something.”
The advent of lasers, satellite transmissions and supercomputers in the 1960s helped artists like Pienne to realize that ‘glow,’ but it wasn't until a group of California artists began to strip the technology away from the equation to make a more pure expression of light—where the glow was not only ‘something’ but something much larger that the viewer him or herself. It was an expression of something monumental, something that embodied space and time itself. Indeed, for the Light & Space artists of that period, light could express an extraordinarily wide range of complex spatial-temporal ideas (and perhaps multiple dimensions) with a directness and ease that no other medium could. James Turrell, who’s included in the exhibition, remains the quintessential reference point for this discussion. For him the way to convey that is by engaging the viewer’s feelings. “Light is a powerful substance,” he says. “We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile. I form it as much as the material allows. I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space. I like the quality of feeling that is felt not only with the eyes.”
Presentism is an attempt to focus on a handful of artists from around the world who are working within the same continuum, yet are doing so with the technologies of today, namely the digital. As the title suggests, these works share an interest in the present tense, as opposed to the ‘recorded’ or ‘canned’ experiences of most moving image art-forms. (The speed of light tends to define our notions of past, present and future since one might be able to experience time travel if he or she could travel faster than light). What all the artists in the show share is an intense interest in using light to convey something that touches us in ways that other mediums cannot. Perhaps, in that way, they reflect author Kate DiCamillo’s words when she claimed that light tells stories. As she says, “Light is so precious in a world so dark… so tell a story. Make some light.” And that is just what these artists are doing.
Works in the exhibition:
(flatscreen in window)
Tinkerbell 2 2010
1 channel of a 4 channel HD video file, flatscreen, dimensions variable, stereo sound, looped
A representation of a light beam set to a musical composition by the artist. Op art, visual music, minimalism, maximalism, superflat and more all rolled into an endless loop
(in far window corner)
Dimensions (After Bochner) 2014
Site Specific Video Projection on Architecture
Projector, computer, infinite loop
Weather working with cut paper, wood cuts, prints or actual wall surfaces, Bochner has emphasized the work’s dimensions as a formal quality and/or graphic.
(In blackened area)
Even the Greatest Stars Discover themselves in the Looking Glass; an allegory of a cave (2014)
Custom software, two computers, projector, camera, mirror, controllers, 3 chairs
Look in the mirror and see your image combining with points of light, yet simultaneously others are viewing through a different medium and changing it in real time. The star only sees the looking glass, while viewers only see interpreted/mediated versions of their own creation.
Interactive video, kinect, custom software, customized black cabinet, frosted glass, dimensions variable
Thomas Wilfred was an artist of the 1920s and the founder of the Art Institute of Light. He was a pioneer in creating light boxes, or Lumia’s, that seem to contain the most ephemeral of light. Carpenter’s piece brings that idea into the current age by adding the element of human touch
The Rainbow Refers Not to a Chaste Abstraction but to a Life in Art (after Walter Benjamin) 2014
Oil on aluminum panel, electric slide projector, glass prism 40” x 8” x 26”
"Productive adults derive no support from colour; for them colour can subsist only within law-given circumstances. Their task is to provide a world order, not to grasp innermost reasons and essences but to develop them. In a child's life, colour is the pure expression of the child's pure receptivity, insofar as it is directed at the world." Benjamin is reminding us (adults) that we may also (like children) step outside of the law-given order and experience the world rather within its plastic field of nuance, of a pure soulful receptivity. One may invert this idea of perception as existing inside the mind -- understand perception as outside of the mind and one steps into the plastic field.
Magic Lantern Glass Slides
Hand-painted glass slides used in the live performance, “The Sequel to the Fairyland of Science” 2014 as well as Spacefarer 2014
Each is Unique
Huestis works with light sculpture and installation by using both pre-cinematic technologies—namely vintage magic lanterns—and video animation to develop a historic and cosmological perspective on the phenomena of seeing and the material aspect of light.
Untitled (44864) 2007
Courtesy of Tim Yarger Fine Art
Ephemeral, intangible, and magical; a light beam encased in glass
(clockwise, left to right)
Para-Site (3 plinths) 2014
Video projection on architecture (3 plinths), HD video, computer
For this piece the artist found three existing pedestals in the gallery and used them for a site-specific projection that was designed on-site
Motion & Rest #2 (2002)
768 LED lights, 24x28” panel, custom software and circuit board
An early LED work by one of the most important pioneers of electronic art from the West Coast.
25 minutes, 3 channel HD video installation with magic lantern and slide projectors.
12 hand-painted and hand operated magic lantern slides (in acetate and glass with wooden frames), fabric ellipse, 29 feet, HD video capture of hand painted magic lantern projections
Stars are time machines—each reflects back the light from ages ago. In Huestis’s work, each star was created by projecting a star image—hand painted by the artist--onto a shimmering cloth, and then compiled into a massive, ever-changing star field. That in turn is combined with vintage magic lanterns that project planets and other heavenly bodies (changed daily).
mid area (right)
(large 16:9 projection screen)
Interactive Projection, HD Projector, Kinect, custom software, Dimensions variable
A planetary system? Bodies in motion? Your body engages with light to create new patterns and interference.
mid area (left-passageway)
Forked Series 11 (2008)
Chul Hyun Ahn
Plywood box, fluorescent tubes, mirrors 21x21x4
Courtesy Tim Yarger Fine Art
(large painting at end of the room)
Acrylic on Polystretch, programmed LEDs, custom software, 7’6” x 5’ , 17 min loop
Mark Rothko was said to walk into galleries that were showing his paintings and turn off the lights.
small back room
Cathode Ray Oscilloscope, SD projection, Projector, 5 flatscreens, video splitter, 5-channel audio system
Sound is sent directly from a sound card into a cathode ray oscilloscope (CRT). Therefore the electrical signal that makes the speakers move is also displacing a single beam of light that traces across a phospherous screen leaving traces of light for long enough to create a persistence of vision.
(print on wall)
Motion Extraction Series (The Passion) 2012
Famously burned at the stake for heresy, Joan of Arc was possessed by an inner light. Fire extinguishes fire. In Ralske’s work every single frame of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” captured in a single frame.
(flatscreen in nook)
Tinkerbell (3) 2010
HD video file, flatscreen, dimensions variable, stereo sound, looped
large back room
LCD Sculpture: Translucent Display, SD card, media player 7” x 4.5” 12min loop
Monilithics / Peruvian Landscape 2014
Parametric Sculpture (CNC Milled form), foam, silicon, screen goo, HD projection, mapping, computer, 8’ x 4’ Run time: 60min. Sound composition by Curtis Tamm
In the early 1920s Laszlo Moholy-Nagy created some of the first light works by projecting light onto, and through, sculptures. Anadol’s Monolithics is the distant cousin to those works, taking Moholy-Nagy’s ideas into the 21st century. Nevertheless, Moholy-Nagy’s comments from 1928 still seem appropriate: “Sculpture that depends on illusion must effectively be kinetic since only through the action of opposing forces can it be brought into balance, to equipoise… The next step beyond equipoise is kinetic equipoise, in which the volume relationships are virtual ones, ie, resulting mainly from the actual movement of the contours, rings and other forms. Here the material is employed as a vehicle of motion. To the third dimension of volume a fourth (time) is added.”
Presentism: Light as Material
January 31st - March 8th 2014