Light Show – Hayward Gallery

One of the best shows I’ve seen in London, hands down.

The show is a collective of various artists using light as a medium for their work. Works include neons, dancing LED lights, playing with shadows, and exploring optical illusions. You can’t take any pictures in there (and rightly so, as you really don’t want any excess lights interrupting your experience) so here’s a few sketches of my favourite of the pieces.

Most of the works have a very playful atmosphere to them; Jim Campbell’s Exploded View (Commuters) being a particular favourite for this reason. The piece consists of lots of small bulb lights dangling down in a fairly tight formation (which creates a  considerable depth), with the light bulbs blinking on and off. At first, the piece is rather pleasing, ethereal and enjoyable to look at; but line yourself up properly with the piece, focus, and in a minute it becomes apparent that the lights blinking off take the form of shadowed bodies (commuters) walking across the piece. Some even drag suitcases behind them, which is particularly impressive.
Light Show SketchesV8

Also playful and involving movement of light is Leo Villareal’s piece Cylinder II, which opens the show. It’s an ever moving system of LED light strips (composed of 19,600 lights), with conflicting patterns of flashing lights on and off. The lights dim, glow, and move up and down the strips in an dance of light. The background glow of Cerith Wyn Evan’s piece (large lights dimming and brightening) is visible whilst looking at this work, and actually adds to it rather well and helps Cylinder II fill the entirety of the space it sits in. Light Show SketchesV7

The first two pieces described are both in lit areas, and play with both adding and taking away light. The other two top picks of mine are darkened rooms with examine the addition of light to a dark space.

Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal combines a projection of light onto a wall with the use of a haze machine. The light on the wall is not the spectacle; rather, it’s what the light does on its way to the wall which is fantastically interesting. You can walk through the prism of light- the smoke which is picked up in the light giving the rays of light an almost semi-solid feeling. It feels strange to be able to put your hand straight through the smoke, and you almost expect it to give some sort of resistance against your touch.

Light Show Sketches4

The best piece in the show for me? Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden. I cannot remember the last time I saw a piece that actually made me gasp – and I was certainly not the only one. The work is housed in a dark room, with the only light provided by flashing strobe lights. The work consists of these strobe lights positioned over a raised series of small water fountains (27 in total.) The fountains are constantly on and spraying water in different directions and styles. Every time the lights flash, the droplets of water appear as bright white, frozen splashes that appear to be suspended in mid-air. The effect is mesmerizing.

Light Show Sketches6

There’s one more day of the show – May 6th. All advance tickets are sold out but if you show up at the Hayward at 10am on the 6th, they will release extra tickets on a first come first serve basis. The show is definitely meant to challenge your perception, which some of the more colourful pieces do with very simplistic but effective methods (I felt most uncomfortable in a white room with only red lights illuminating it), but it also seems to have an interesting undercurrent of mathematics and precision. Most of the works are very exact in their execution (Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc inside a Cube IV being an excellent example), but there is nothing sloppy or left to chance with this show.

When sketching out what I remembered, everything seemed to take a very orderly linear approach, and I found that rather comforting, after spending an hour having my vision challenged.

Plain Sketch4

Plain Sketch3

Plain Sketch2

Plain Sketch1

Do go see this show; you won’t regret it.

Some top tips:

Since tickets are timed and everyone enters at the same time, it may be better to do some of the later pieces first then make your way back to the start. In the first 15 minutes the McCall was unbearably crowded; in the last 15 I had it to myself.

Wear clean socks. There are a couple of rooms that involve an adjustment to footwear (one of them the adjustment being that you can’t wear shoes), and annoyingly you cannot use crutches in those rooms (I also lost my balance and went careening into a wooden wall in one of the darker corridors. I didn’t think it was a big deal until I left the exhibition and found chunks of wood embedded in the top of my crutches, so, sorry about that now-missing chunk of your wall, Hayward Gallery.)


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