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'Winter Light' at Southbank Centre turns the place into a visual playground

Winter Light, curated by Cedar Lewisohn, features light sculptures, kinetic light works, video works, and 2D installations by both established and emerging artists.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Feb 12, 2023

The harsh season of winter is synonymous with searing darkness with no promise of long days of light. Since the night draws in early, the recurrent phrase ‘winter blues’ encapsulates the clinical effect of disjuncture between regular patterns of (close to) even day and night. To beat these blues, the colourful LED light installations by contemporary artists, as part of the Winter Light exhibition, set a warm glow on an otherwise gloomy winter night at the sites of Southbank Centre. The open-air exhibition, free of cost, features 11 low-energy LED light works from ten internationally acclaimed contemporary artists. The light-centric multimedia installation oversees the play of colours to question the pressing ideas of the current times: individual and collective identity, environment, ecology and technology. Cedar Lewisohn, who is Curator of Site Design at the Southbank Centre, curated Winter Light with Assistant Curators Mark Healy, Madeleine Lynch and Curatorial Assistant Helena Adalsteinsdottir.

Installation View: Sixty Minute Spectrum, David Batchelor | Winter Light | STIRworld
Installation view: Sixty Minute Spectrum, David Batchelor Image: Pete Woodhead

The light in-situ kinetic installations and sculptures reimagine the conventional crafts of hand-blown glass and light. In an interview with STIR, Lewisohn mentioned the exhibition offered an opportune moment to restore the wellbeing of the community. “It came out of a desire to illuminate our site in the darkest months of the year. It also gives artists opportunities to create new works and to build a portfolio of artworks we can show across our fantastic site,” he said.

The artworks punctuate the Southbank Centre’s buildings and facades and along the riverside adding glimmer to the city of London. The exhibition is a fine mix of genres and mediums. “There are light sculptures, kinetic light works, video works, and 2D installations - hopefully all of the pieces complement and speak to each other,” informed Lewisohn. The exhibition showcased the work of both emerging artists as well more established artists, giving them all an equal platform. “All of this feeds into London’s rich cultural tapestry, and we are happy to be part of that,” added the curator.

David Batchelor’s Portrait | Winter Light| STIRworld
David Batchelor’s portrait Image: Pete Woodhead

Lisa Cheung and Alex J. Tuckwood’sSTELA (Super Terrestrial Electric Light Aurora) scrutinised the ecological concerns. The electric blues, greens and violet of the geometric structure are a reminiscence of the fragile environment in an effort to underscore the necessity to safeguard it. The dazzling Arctic skies to London first travelled to Clapham Common pond in collaboration with Lambeth Council and later to Southbank. The multimedia artist Emily Mulenga’s Fantasy Star Online is a surreal journey reminiscent of the video games era. “Gloss and escapism meet humour and unease,” informed the press release. The stills from three videos by the artist survey the notion of identity as a social construct when the consumption of media is soaring.

The Battle, 2021, Caiwei Tang  | Winter Light| STIRworld
The Battle, 2021, Caiwei Tang Image: Pete Woodhead

The luminary graffiti artist EGS magnifies the domain of the art form with EGS: Winter Letters. He arranges the luminous glass objects in the shape of his name to sketch a map around the site. The leading paths could be approached from a variety of directions and offers the public the liberty to lose their way. Conrad Shawcross’ Dark Heart is displayed in an innovative new light for the Southbank Centre with two incessantly spinning metal arms forming a hypnotic, glowing spiral. Cast upon the wall of the Royal Festival Hall is an animation work The Battle by Caiwei Tang. The unique style of illustration inspired by Japanese animation initiates a fresh perspective on the joys and frustrations of throwing clay.

Vase Forms, 2021, Fred Tschida, Frederick Carder| Winter Light| STIRworld
Vase Forms, 2021, Fred Tschida, Frederick Carder Image: Owen Billcliffe

It is the installation Sixty Minute Spectrum by David Batchelor which transforms the Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall into a chromatic clock — gradually moving through the entire visual spectrum. Batchelor is known to play with a variety of colours to demystify the notion of high arts. By way of catapulting the elements from everyday life to art space, the artist blurs the conventional binaries of refined and profane. "It is visible from multiple locations around the Southbank Centre and the Hayward Gallery and speaks perfectly to the architecture of our buildings. The changes of colour almost feel like they are different emotions. When the light on the building is red, it feels so different to when the light is blue. This is the simple genius of David’s piece,” elaborates Lewisohn.

Fantasy Star Online, 2022, Emily Mulenga| Winter Light| STIRworld
Fantasy Star Online, 2022, Emily Mulenga Image: Owen Billcliffe
Winter Letters, 2022, EGS, Southbank Centre Winter Light 2022| Winter Light| STIRworld
Winter Letters, 2022, EGS, Southbank Centre Winter Light 2022 Image: Pete Woodhead

An all-time favourite of the Winter Light, David Ogle’s Loomin, a fluorescent tree canopy finds a place along The Queen’s Walk. Zarah Hussain creates beautiful geometric patterns in Beauty of Abstraction and Sharjah Spectrum by amalgamating traditional motifs of Islamic art with computer coding. On the Riverside Terrace, JokobKvist’s Dichroic Sphere imposingly shifts the spectrum of colour in accordance to what angle the light comes from, lit by a single LED bulb.

The works in the Winter Light aim to give the audience a sense of joy and wonder. The collaborative exercise is anchored to make the public spaces of Southbank Centre and the Hayward Gallery a “visual playground”. The exhibition aspires to create “a museum quality experience in our outside spaces that people can enjoy for free,” notes Lewisohn.

Winter Light, David Batchelor, Sixty Minute Spectrum  Video: Courtesy of Southbank Centre

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