Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide

Advertisement

A Certain Kind of Light at the Towner Gallery

Garry Fabian Miller, Year Two, Lead (1), December 2007/9. Courtesy of the Artist and Hacklebury Fine Art, London

It’s frosty outside and those sun-soaked holidays on the south coast suddenly seem very far off. Stay too long on the Eastbourne seafront this February and you’re in more danger of turning a weather-beaten blue than overdoing the tan. Snuggled in the city’s Towner Gallery, however, is a new exhibition offering a little bit of artistic glow to warm up your winter.

A Certain Kind of Light, open until 7 May, explores conceptual approaches to light in modern art over the past six decades. The exhibition comes as the Towner Gallery’s first collaboration with the Arts Council Collection, and features pieces from the Collection’s prodigious catalogue including work from well-known artists such as Peter Lanyon, L S Lowry and David Batchelor. Items on show range from sculptures to photography, and offer a densely packed tour through some of the more abstract – and experiential – meditations on brightness, luminescence and colour.

A Certain Kind of Light, Towner Art Gallery, 2017. Photo Credit: Pete Jones_web_19
A Certain Kind of Light, Towner Art Gallery, 2017. Photo Credit: Pete Jones_web_19
 
No surprises, then, that A Certain Kind of Light centres on the visual. The assortment of pieces tease and trick the eye into assumptions that conceptually contradict. The opening gallery’s Je t’adore baby by Toby Ziegler takes this sentiment literally. A wall-mounted acrylic slab, the canvas’ reflective fabric is interspersed with precisely arranged splurges of white creating an illusion of depth. The accompanying caption describes the piece as “reminiscent of Moorish architecture in southern Spain […] reminiscent of computer games.” A pat on the back if you’ve connected those two styles before. If Zeigler encourages the viewer to search for space in the flat, the nearby untitled work from Anish Kapoor alludes to the reverse. A curved mirror collapses into a nook, inviting the audience to look inside. What are we hoping to find? At best ourselves – what else can a mirror show? The cavity is, in fact, dark, however, a non-space at the heart of the reflection.

Light as contradictory runs as a theme throughout the Towner’s prized new show. Cerith Wyn Evans’ Dairy: How to Improve the world (you will only make matters worse) Continued 1986(revised) – a catchy title – suspends a blinking light within a chandelier. The flashing (apparently) communicates the words of music theorist John Cage in Morse code. “It’s a matter of the greatest urgency – a matter of ethics even – that we are able to reach one another” a nearby screen translates, alongside further text. The words are surely ironic. If light is associated with clarity, Evan’s piece creates obscurity. The clicking Morse messages are for the most part gobbledygook, even once decoded, and the crystalline chandelier quite literally distorts the light beams before they reach the viewer’s eye. If you are confused, you are meant to be.

TV Room, A Certain Kind of Light, Towner Art Gallery, 2017. Photo Credit: Pete Jones_web_2
TV Room, A Certain Kind of Light, Towner Art Gallery, 2017. Photo Credit: Pete Jones_web_2

A cluster of self-reflexive works question the use of light within art. Garry Fabian Miller’s prints attempt to realise an open flame in a still image. Rays are shone through light-sensitive paper to create an intense red-white. The colours appear to emanate eclipse-like from the black background, reversing the usual direction of light, now radiating from the canvas rather than shining on art as subject – a clever, if a little glib, twist. Paul Winstanley, by contrast, focuses on non-centres. The Manchester-born artist’s work is marked for its realist, yet minimalist, depictions of bland spaces. His TV Room, included in A Certain Kind of Light’s second gallery, shows a television, turned off, surrounded by empty chairs. The room is lit from above but the blank TV screen is the point of interest, a dark chasm notable for no light. Winstanley’s image may look like a photograph, but is in fact an oil painting. “No light was used in the making of this art work,” the label should read.
 
“No light” is almost a theme of Mark Garry’s intricate installation. The newest piece in the exhibition An Afterwards Again meticulously fastens a truss of thin threads above the audience’s head. Different colours appear according to the viewer’s position, a quaint imitation of a refracted colour palette. This fake light is joined by a fake shadow: directly below sits Brad Lochore’s Shadow No.52, an oil painting with slight blue-black lines as if cast by fading light – an astoundingly accurate forgery. Ceal Floyer’s piece is more spurious still, with four projectors illuminating an unplugged bulb. The work’s laconic title is Light, but like much in this cunning exhibition, what glitters isn’t always gold. The bulb can’t possibly be on; what appears to be obvious is often misleading.

Katie Paterson, Totality, 2016. Photo Credit: Flora Bartlett. Courtesy of the Arts Council Collection. Installation view Somerset House.
Katie Paterson, Totality, 2016. Photo Credit: Flora Bartlett. Courtesy of the Arts Council Collection. Installation view Somerset House.
 
And what to make of Katie Paterson’s Totality? The centrepiece of A Certain Kind of Light, the 2016 piece suspends a glitter ball within a large, square room, each sequin reflecting an image of an eclipse at different stages. Two projectors fire down on the spinning globe throwing lights swirling across the gallery in a monotonous circuit right to left. Standing in the artwork’s orbit is a nauseous experience. You are thrown into a whirlpool, the whole space revolving with the circling dots. The imitation forged by Floyer’s bulb or Lachore’s shadow has been reflected and projected outwards, transforming the chamber into a galaxy, hurling the viewer tumbling through a simulated cosmos. Those prone to seasickness may be forced to enjoy this particular piece theoretically: ten seconds in Totality is likely to total one’s sinuses.
 
A Certain Kind of Light is a groundbreaking exhibition for the Towner Gallery and a fascinating showcase of modern art. Although most pieces are plainly conceptual, there is also plenty of immediate pleasure in the bright, sharply cut works – perfect for holding younger viewer’s attention. The galleries have a teasing, tantalising, at times devious streak – particularly intriguing – cutting wry narratives across the many artists’ works. While the sun is away on holiday, take a break yourself: visit the Towner and be sucked into this dazzling journey through light.

A Certain Kind of Light runs until 7 May. For further information on the Towner Gallery, see online.
Advertisement
Advertisement