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In light of darkness

Laetitia Wilson: Light Geist


Walyja Ngurra, 2016, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes, Light Geist Walyja Ngurra, 2016, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes, Light Geist
photo Eva Fernandez

Like moths drawn to light, humans have been magnetised by this ephemeral force, whether the light of the skies, fire or electric light. In ancient Greek philosophy and the book of Genesis darkness was banished to all that was considered wrong, pushed into the depths of the psyche, whereas light was seen to represent good. This has troubling social, cultural and racial ramifications, as is argued by writers such as Richard Dyer, who problematises the ‘culture of light’ in White, Essays on Race and Culture (Routledge, 1997).

More literally, electric light has utterly transformed our being in the world. It has impacted upon natural circadian rhythms, hidden the stars of the night sky with light-pollution, changed work and leisure habits and radically defined our consumption of culture through media.

The exhibition Light Geist curated by Erin Coates at the Fremantle Arts Centre aesthetically deconstructs the opposition of light and dark. New works by Ella Barclay, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes and Sam Price, present the phenomenon of light as a powerful, ambiguous and seductive medium, where darkness and light, both literal and symbolic, are woven into each other. The artists wield light in a way that is counter to the habitual passive consumption of screen content. You can step inside the light, blow it away and witness an intense field of projection-mapped hexagonal forms. Darkness is not banished by these artists but rather it has informed the creation and exhibiting of their works.

A clue to this lies in the tripartite English translation of the German term 'Geist,' as mind, spirit and ghost. Each of the works links to one of these categories, defining the way they tackle light, while also conjuring darkness.

Hive Mind, Sam Price, Light Geist Hive Mind, Sam Price, Light Geist
photo Rebecca Mansell

The dark recesses of the mind become the source of inspiration for Sam Price. In Hive Mind he has CNC-ed (computer numerical controlled. Eds) a model of a brain that protrudes from the wall as a cluster of white hexagonal forms, split into two as indicative of left and right brain. This becomes the screen for a tight, icy white projection coupled with a pumping electronic soundtrack. The rhythm of the light is controlled by data taken from a scan of Price’s own brain. The light dilates, then disappears only to reappear and shimmer across the surface. The effect is hypnotic, appearing almost holographic while reminiscent of the eclectic visual spectacles accompanying electronic music acts.

Ella Barclay gives us ghostly figures emerging from mist in This Comes to You From the Past. Three rectangular pools are suspended with wires that weave through clouds of mist, the blend with technology recalling science fiction movie scenes. As with the Cylon birthing pools in Battlestar Galactica, it suggests some ghostly or alien life form will appear from within. Instead, the vision is fairly quotidian, with a projection of bodies of swimmers filmed at night from above. There is nonetheless something transcendental and otherworldly about them and the way they float. This is emphasised all the more by their disappearance when the mist is blown or brushed aside to reveal the floor through the glass bottom of the tanks.

This Comes To You From the Past, 2016, Ella Barclay, Light Geist This Comes To You From the Past, 2016, Ella Barclay, Light Geist
photo Eva Fernandez

The idea of spirit courses through Walyja Ngurra, the work of Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes. Ngamaru is a senior member of Parnngurr in the Western desert. She paints ancestral connection to land with close attention to fire cycles. The burning of the land leaves the blackest black out of which springs new growth. Her use of colours is irrepressibly vibrant and the canvas comes to life, dynamically animated by an intense spectrum of warm tones. Hayes has collaborated with Ngamaru to translate her paintings into the digital realm. These are animated in a 180-degree floor to wall projection coupled with sounds of the outback and Ngamaru singing and are quite unlike more familiar encounters with abstract projection of Indigenous painting.

Although technology has exacerbated a denial of darkness, Light Geist, as with many of the dark spaces of media arts, challenges the bifurcation of dark and light by seeing the darkness within the light, celebrating ambiguity and complexity. Forms are half glimpsed, ancient stories are brought to life and activity of the mind is made manifest. Darkness feeds into each of these works as part of a series of ghostly, spiritual and cognitive encounters with light.


Light Geist, curator Erin Coates; Fremantle Arts, Centre, 19 Nov 2016-22 Jan 2017

Perth-based freelance writer and lecturer Laetitia Wilson is the partner of Sohan Ariel Hayes.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2017 pg.

© Laetitia Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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