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{16/02/2013}   Art? I thought it was just a light bulb

Not wanting to sound uncouth or disparaging but, having gone to the “Light Show” at Hayward Gallery yesterday, I once again found myself in a modern art exhibition wondering what was so great about a lot of the exhibits.  Fortunately, I went with an equally uncouth friend (sorry, D!), so it ended up being worth the £11 per person entry fee just for amusement and two of the displays (actually, I’d have paid £11 to see just one of them in particular).  I am clearly missing something but in my world a few fluorescent strip lights do not make art.  And, seriously, who writes the blurb about these pieces; it is a language unique to the art world.  Why does so much modern art need a poncy explanation?  And why can so many people be heard coming out with art speak?  Sometimes I feel that the “artist” must be listening to us all and laughing at how gullible we are to be spouting off about art that is actually just a light bulb.  Or, as my friend pointed out, as we stood facing what appeared to be rows of dead light bulbs, “Ah, they must be the spare bulbs”.

We queued to go into a room that was all white (we had to wear covers over our shoes) and there was a rounded square border of white light and apparently there were no shadows cast in the room.  One woman was studying the area around the light.  If there was something amazing about it, I’m sorry, I missed it.  Plus we could see our shadows.  Very disappointing.  I didn’t get it.  The blurb talked of a suspended colour field, floating freely in space … I’m sorry, I really just didn’t get it.  My friend’s comment on that was that for him the highlight was walking down a really, really dark corridor to get to the curtains to enter the room.

There were a few pieces that were of interest, for example more than 1000 LED bulbs suspended from a grid of wires which flickered to look like like people were walking amidst the lights.  That was really cool and was called “Commuters”.  Another one in a dark room had a beam of light from a projector, a haze machine and computer scripting so it felt like you bumped into something when you crossed the line of light and the shadows and “sketching” on the back wall looked cool; that was fun.  Some others were interesting, whether for the visual effect or the change to your overall feeling caused by colour, for example.

We queued for another one that suggested you would want to stay in for 15 minutes.  Nope, sorry, didn’t get that one either.  And my departure from that very dark room (you had to feel your way along a black, unlit corridor to get into that room – possibly also the highlight) was a little fraught as the man who’d sat next to me had stood on my excessively long, stretch skirt, so when I got up to leave my skirt was pulled to half way down my bum!  At least it was dark!  We also queued to go into a glorified phone box.  Yeah, it was kind of cool that you could look up and there was the illusion of there being a chimney of lights, likewise looking down.  But I have vertigo and thought I wouldn’t be able to look down but it wasn’t as convincing as I felt it should have been and it didn’t freak me out at all.  No to that one too.

My second favourite display was by Conrad Shawcross.  I have never searched out his work but I have twice seen really cool things he’s done (one in an abandoned London tram station and the other at the Turner Contemporary in Margate) and this third has cemented my interest in his work.  It was in a white room with a big metal cube of geometric patterns, ie like a doily with more holes than material.  Inside it were moving arms with lights on so the geometric shapes moved around the wall.  The blurb is all about chemistry and atoms; to me it was cool shapes moving about on the wall and when I put my hand out to see what happened to my shadow, my hand and arm stretched and shrank.  It also made you feel really, really disorientated when you walked in it as it was moving.  Very cool and innovative.

However, the best was saved until last; indeed to see that was what led me to the Hayward.  The artist is Olafur Eliasson, Danish but a bit Icelandic.  He created the 2003 artificial sun in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern and also did one of my favourite buildings, Harpa in Reykjavik.  The room is painted black and the only light is from strobe lights encased in boxes over a black spongy ledge with 27 different water fountains in motion.  I have never had an issue with strobe lights but these were quite challenging and very, very powerful.  I was concious of them all the time and as it changed the speed at which you perceived things, I kept bumping into people!  There is no way on earth I would go in there if I were still prone to migraines or had any condition that led me to possibly be affected by strobe lights.  Health and safety warning done.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It was mesmerising, magical, beautiful, fascinating and just about the best artistic display imaginable.  The little fountains, jets and mist spray were slowed down so much by the strobe lights that each water feature could be seen as either lots of droplets of silver water moving slowly or as a mercury-like froth.  It was like being in a scene from The Matrix.  I did find the strobe quite hard work though.  I am going to paste a YouTube link for it but don’t be put off by the flashing on the video, it’s worse than it is when you’re actually there.

Would I recommend Light Show?  Yes and no.  You get given a timed entry ticket, we had 1pm – 2pm, and we were in there for an hour, maybe a few minutes longer, but it was quite busy.  There were more children off school than I had expected and, while it looked like fun to them, if you aren’t going with children I would suggest either going early on in the day, later in the day or not on weekends or in school holidays as the ambience in a few rooms was lost due to rampaging, (and I am not exaggerating) squealing children (the same three or so, in all fairness to the well-behaved ones).  You can’t take photographs inside, which is good, though there were a few things that would have made fantastically quirky photos.  I had never been to an exhibition of light and I appreciated seeing something different.  But, really, the biggest draw is the water garden.

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