by Sukanya GargJul 31, 2020
Visible light is a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum perceivable to the human eye. It is the backbone of our human civilisation, and the architecture of our existence is intrinsically dependent on it. A large part of our information input comes from our ability to perceive light, and therefore colour. Light-based artwork is a form of installation and sculptural work which has developed over the past century, loosely associated with the wider notion of new media artwork. While many master painters used the visual effect of light to create movement, immensity and mood on their canvas, the shift to contemporary art slowly began to see a break away from traditional materials. This allowed for artwork to become light itself, to be played with as a material. It and pencils. While the build up to it might have been facilitated by various movements across the world, the momentum reached a crescendo when the Light and Space movement culminated in the 1960s. The movement lasted through the 1970s as well, bringing to the fore artists like Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, Mary Corse and others.
In a curatorial feat, Pace Gallery in Seoul brings together four artists who harness the medium of light as their primary material. Dan Flavin, James Turrell, Robert Irwin and Peter Alexander are names which are synonymous with light-based artwork. Bending Light is an amalgamation of the three California-based artists in juxtaposition with Flavin, their East Coast based minimalist contemporary. The exhibition charts their evolving relationships, bringing together iconic works in a dialogue around the evolution of light-based art. It pays homage to the connections between the East and West Coast artists, one which is otherwise largely undocumented. Bending Light included Atlantis, Medium Rectangle Glassby James Turrell, Makes Your Mouth Water by Peter Alexander and other noteworthy works from the repertoires of the pioneering artists.
The exhibition was a tribute to the Light and Space movement of the late 20th century. While Turrell and Irwin continue to live and work in California (USA), Flavin passed away in the year 1996. Notably, Peter Alexander passed away earlier this year in May 2020 at the age of 81. Alexander was well-known for his resin-based works, having been drawn to its material nature in the 70s as a result of his experiments with plastic. He has been quoted on this choice, having expressed his decision as indicative of a break away from the norms and conventions of art in the previous years, “Art was made out of all the things that history has said art is made of. So, one of the reasons why I liked plastic was that it was sort of anti-art, so to speak”. Alexander’s resin works captured light in a singularly absorbing sight, using the natural refraction of the material to hold colour in a rather unique way. His sculptural works played with the viewers’ perception of the material, creating a blurry line between liquid and solid forms. This aspect of light-based work is rather interesting, as its perception depends more heavily on the viewer’s movements and positioning compared to other forms of work. It is static, yet the way it captures, holds and emanates light is constantly alive and in conversation with our eyes and brain. While much of Alexander’s work might allude to aesthetics of colour field painting, a style of abstractionism which emerged in New York in the 1940s, he also created figurative imagery in his cast urethane sculptures. One such work is Cloud Box (1996), a dreamy and ethereal work which might be likened to extracting a cube from the sky. Several of his small-scale sculptures were on display at the exhibition.
While the display brought together a rich tapestry of the historical Light and Space movement, it might have been further enhanced by the inclusion of archival materials and other peripheral objects which could have better illustrated the relationship between these four remarkable artists. Bending Light was on display till August 14, 2020.