Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Light Fantastic

The Gagosian, Britannia Street

Today’s discovery: The Gagosian contemporary art gallery, about five minutes around the corner, in the back streets of Kings Cross. A sleek, some might say unprepossessing exterior hides the gallery, which is owned by a chap named Larry Gagosian who also has galleries in New York, Beverly Hills, Paris and Rome.

The current exhibition is by the Los Angeles artist James Turrell, whose medium is, is seems, light.  His life’s work, still underway, is a project to turn a crater in the Arizona desert into a huge observatory. Try Googling him – there are some very impressive images to be seen.

James Turrell and Roden Crater in Arizona
There are only a handful of Turrell works in the Gagosian, but two are large installations. One of which is intended to be experienced by only one person at a time. It is called (for reasons which I have not been able to discover) Bindu Shards (2010), and is described thus:

Bindu Shards (2010) is a fully immersive visual and auditory work to be experienced by one person at a time. Part of the ongoing Perceptual Cells series, Bindu Shards possesses the same invasive qualities of “behind-the-eyes”. Each cell stimulates an experience in which there is no object of perception; the light which is presented is light "not seen.” This produces the “Purkinje effect,” a transitional patterning that is perceived uniquely during the transition from light to dark. Together with the Dark Spaces series begun in 1983, Shards shares this dissolving of the juncture between the light outside and the light inside. During the eight to twelve minutes required for the eyes to adapt to darkness, the realm where the difference between “in-front” and “back-of-the-eyes” seeing dissolves and allows the iris to open.

Bindu Shards

And how does this translate for the average gallery-goer? A large white spherical machine, in charge of young ladies in white lab coats. When your time-slot comes, you lie down on a tray like a human-sized drawer, are given headphones, and then slotted into the sphere (a bit like an MRI machine, if anyone has even had one of those experiences) – for about 10-15 minutes.  All the observer can see from the outside is the lab-coated person working on a laptop, and a little leakage of bright light of various colours from the tiny ‘doorway’.

Regretfully, I am unable to report first hand on the experience inside Bindu Shards, since all the slots to experience this art work were fully booked. Sorry about that. Reports of those that have had better luck use phrases like “ecstasy”, “you do not know what is inside and outside your head,” “messes with your senses and perceptions”, “will melt your brain”. “transcendent” and – wait for it – “mental orgasm”.


Then there’s Dhātu (2010), which looks intriguing. It could be described as a great big light box, big enough to walk into. You approach it via a flight of stairs, the vivid colours inside changing gently. The idea is that you have no sense of edges, horizons, boundaries. Interesting. Not perhaps something to take home for the living room, but it is a treat to pop round the corner to a gallery and see these works.

'Sustaining Light' (2007)

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