Light Show at the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank

Light Show brings about thirty pieces created since the 1960s to London’s Hayward Gallery on the South Bank. This show is fundamentally different from most exhibitions: the exhibits in Light Show emit light whereas most exhibitions are about objects which reflect light. We see red light plus green light as an attractive yellow, whereas red paint added to green paint makes something that looks like brown mud. My reaction to pieces varied from admiring beauty and aesthetic satisfaction to curiosity: “how did the artist do that” or “why do my eyes see it like this?” And a couple of “mmm.. yes” reactions too.

The various exhibits use different technologies: Dan Flavin’s pieces from the 1960’s use the then innovative fluorescent tubes to an effect which, if it now seems staid or contemplative, misses the thrill of seeing and playing with the new quality of light from these lamps. Alternatively, the first piece and most complex we see in the exhibition, Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II of 2012, uses 19,600 state of the art white LEDs and programming to achieve a complex and ever-changing, apparently never-repeating, display of abstract patterns and shapes which the note suggests evoke “meteor showers, fireworks, falling snow, waves of phosphorescence, clouds of swarming fireflies and other natural phenomena.”

There are a number of installations, some of which play with our perception. I spent some time in the three rooms of the exhibit Chromosaturation of Carlos Cruz-Diez. There are three rooms laid out as in a capital E. Each room is decorated entirely in white and illuminated solely by a bank of fluorescent tubes, one room of each colour red, green and blue. Walking through is initially an overload in colour as the eyes attempt to balance each colour. Inconsistencies in perception start to appear, highlighted by white cubes suspended where they catch light from two rooms. Finally there are very clear emotional responses to the extreme colours. The red room feels immediately warm and the blue room feels immediately cold. Walking from the red room to the green room was to me like encountering a pressure. Walking from the blue room to the green room completely changed my perception of the green room so that it appeared to be yellow. This exhibit provoked discussion between visitors in a way quite unlike the normal hushed atmosphere of a gallery.

I was interested how visitors were fascinated by Anthony Macall’s “You and I horizontal”, which makes visible shafts of light from a video projector in an unfamiliar way, especially to those who have not “worked with light” in the sense of working with stage lights (luminaires) and lighting controllers. Fellow visitors touched the shafts of light or arranged themselves within a magic circle formed by the cone of projected light.

 “Omissions” - Light Show is in an art gallery so comes at the topic from that perspective and is about emotion and perception: there aren’t any pieces concerned with exploiting illusions used in the theatre nor any that display the beauty of the physics of light and optics. But pieces like Iván Navarro’s Reality Show (Silver), which exploits reflection, have a lot in common with the fine pieces of cut glass such in the Victoria and Albert museum’s collection of pieces of crystal.

Plenty of other exhibits which provoke thought and/or unusual sensations. Light Show at the Hayward Gallery is a popular show: advance booking required. Allow lots of time to enjoy the exhibits.

Light Show features works by 22 artists including David Batchelor, Jim Campbell, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Bill Culbert, Olafur Eliasson, Fischli and Weiss, Dan Flavin, Ceal Floyer, Nancy Holt, Jenny Holzer, Ann Veronica Janssens, Brigitte Kowanz, Anthony McCall, François Morellet, Iván Navarro, Philippe Parreno, Katie Paterson, Conrad Shawcross, James Turrell, Leo Villareal, Doug Wheeler and Cerith Wyn Evans.
The exhibition is curated by Dr Cliff Lauson, Hayward Gallery Curator.