Light Show is beguiling and hypnotising at London's Hayward Gallery

By Alex Oxborough | 07 February 2013

Exhibition review: Light Show, Hayward Gallery, London, until April 28 2013

A photo of a young woman staring at small white lights within a dark blue installation
Jim Campbell, Exploded View (Commuters) (2011)© Jim Campbell, courtesy Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / studio of Jim Campbell. Photo: Linda Nylind
A good exhibition gives you something to think about after you leave the gallery —an idea or emotion. A great exhibition makes you see the world in a different light. Light Show at the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery leads you to see the light, question it, and emerge with a new understanding of wonder.

Focusing on artists from the 1960s to the present day who have used light as a medium, Light Show investigates and frames the phenomenon of light.

A photo of a young woman standing in a see-through square case with white doors
Iván Navarro, Reality Show (2010)© Iván Navarro, courtesy Iván Navarro / Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris. Photo: Linda Nylind
Mesmerising, beguiling and occasionally downright confusing, Light Show’s 25 illuminated installations and sculptures survey the experience of light, its effect on human psychology and its possibilities as a sculptural medium.

Light appears in pure colour blocks in Carlos Cruz-Diez’s photogenic installation, Chromosaturation.  By separating colour wavelengths, Cruz-Diez, a contemporary of light art pioneer Dan Flavin, reveals the profound effect light has on the human brain.

Similarly, the potential of seemingly ambient light to disconcert is revealed in Doug Wheeler’s all-white 1960s installation—to enter the exhibit is to partially abandon conscious thought and run on emotion.

Prompting thought, rather than obliterating it, Bill Culbert’s tricksy 1975 work uses only lightbulbs and mirrors to disappear light.

Iván Navarro’s 2010 piece takes the idea forward. The visitor steps inside a box where the light below and above fades into infinite black while the viewer themself disappears.

Inspired by his childhood in Chile under Pinochet’s brutal totalitarian regime, Navarro’s work plays on the one-way mirrors used in interrogation rooms.

Happily, Light Show is not all about darkness. The twinkling shimmer of Leo Villareal’s 2011 Cylinder may suggest alien life forms, but the random glitter fall effect of the 19,600 computer-controlled LEDs that make up the piece have the comforting presence of an elaborate child’s nightlight.

Equally, the darkroom housing Anthony McCall’s beams of white light offers the light as a curiosity — seemingly solid and yet untouchable.

This existential conundrum is repeated throughout the exhibition, as shadows disappear and space shifts, skirting the murky borderlands of philosophy, science and art.

Though many of the works are inspired by scientific discoveries and a very modern idea of how art should interact with the viewer, at heart the explorations of light art are reassuringly traditional. For have not artists always played with light?

By turns mentally challenging and simply hypnotic, Light Show is an enthralling spectacle.

  • Open 10am-6pm (12pm-6pm Monday, 8pm Thursday and Friday). Tickets £7.50-£11. Book tickets and visit the show online. Follow the gallery online @southbankcentre and use the hashtag #HAYWARDLIGHT.

More pictures:

A photo of a silhouette of a person standing in a black room with dark blue lights
Anthony McCall, You and I, Horizontal (2005)© Anthony McCall, courtesy Anthony McCall / Sprüth Magers Berlin London. Photo: Linda Nylind

A photo of a young woman staring at a cylinder of bright and yellow lights in a gallery
Cerith Wyn Evans, S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive's overspill...) (2010)© Cerith Wyn Evans, courtesy Cerith Wyn Evans / White Cube. Photo: Linda Nylind
A photo of a woman staring into a cylinder showing lines of blue and white light rays
Iván Navarro, Burden (Lotte World Tower) (2011)© Iván Navarro, courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery. Photo: Linda Nylind
A photo of a man and a woman standing either side of a bright light inside a gallery case
Conrad Shawcross, Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV (2009)© Conrad Shawcross, courtesy Conrad Shawcross / Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Linda Nylind

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