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perth festival 2013

set controls for the heart of the sun

laetitia wilson: light works, perth international arts festival

Grazia Toderi with Orbite Rosse (Red Orbits) Grazia Toderi with Orbite Rosse (Red Orbits)
photo Toni Wilkinson

The array of light manipulations on display took me back to somewhere in the depths of Norway, where underground runs the longest road tunnel in the world, the Lærdal Tunnel. This feat of engineering has a curious surprise embedded in its depths. Just as the driver is slipping into somnolence and fearing having entered a time warp, a dreamy bluish speck appears in the distance. As it grows it is easy to wonder if it is a portal to another dimension and when it swallows you up, twin feelings of wonder and disappointment envelop you. All the immersive delight in the mystery of the light source is dispelled, revealed as a simple effect designed to ease monotony and potential claustrophobia. It does not, after all, indicate the final radiance you might observe before being split into several billion particles and recombined some place alien.

This experience illustrates one of the defining features of light. It has an inherent mystery to it, yet it is also that universally familiar stuff that signals the beginning of a new day and artificially illuminates our nights. It has a remarkable range of qualities, from bright to dull, searing heat to ice cold. Whether we squint at the sun or follow a flitting firefly, light is that elusive electromagnetic radiation that can be a substance of both spectacular intensity and delicate subtlety. This broad potentiality of light was revealed in the Perth Festival.

jim campbell, scattered light

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell Scattered Light, Jim Campbell
photo James Ewing
American media artist Jim Campbell is a technically innovative tinkerer. For Scattered Light (2010), on display in the Kings Park gardens, Campbell has hung a three dimensional ‘screen’ of over 1,600 light bulbs that presents the viewer with more than first envisaged. Each bulb is carefully engineered with an LED fixture and strategically positioned to be on or off according to a programmed video sequence. A shadowy scene of passers-by in New York’s Grand Central Station crosses the lights. Their bodies are fuzzy close up and defined from a distance, yet each point of observation has its own qualities—whether crisp resolution is desired or the more hypnotic qualities of being confronted by an army of bulbs, with such curious details as the odd bulb seen gently couched in the lush green grass. (See the interview with Jim Campell, RT112, p6.)

luminous flux

Campbell also has a work at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Motion and Rest #4 (2002), in the group exhibition Luminous Flux. It is a scaled down and simplified version on the same theme, with the added pathos of only limping figures traversing a small screen of LED lights. This exhibition is illuminated by not only LED, but by neon, fluoro, light box, projection and reflection pieces. The installation of the works recalls the logistics of Dome films which are most successful when they take on visually dark topics, like space or underwater. This is because brightness spills over to the other side of the screen and so dulls the overall clarity of the image. It is all too evident in Luminous Flux that spill is occurring and that most of the works would function better in pitch black.

Nonetheless the individual works are mesmeric once you enter within their glow. Rebecca Baumann’s Reflected Glory (2013) splashes onto the walls like effervescence in colour and light. It optimises a simple, low-tech effect of reflection from sundry materials—perspex, wrapping paper and mirror. If this were the sight glimpsed in the middle of a tunnel, it would certainly have one wondering if some raucous clandestine rave were underway.

ross manning, volumes

Ross Manning, Volumes, PICA, courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Ross Manning, Volumes, PICA, courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
photo Mark Sherwood, courtesy Perth Festival
A similar reflection effect is apparent in the exhibition Volumes, by Australian artist Ross Manning at PICA. For his Dichroic Filter Piece (2012), a projector is used to shine black and white lines through diachronic glass placed on the ground. This, again, results in a spectacular, prismatic spill upon the walls, like the hard-edged version of soft rainbows scattered throughout a room by the sun’s rays passing through a hanging crystal. Manning is renowned for kinetic light installations and his other works in the exhibition combine circular movement, fans, coloured fluoros and ribbon, to create wondrous hanging, spinning and glowing contraptions.

grazia toderi

One of the most impressive exhibitions is by Italian artist Grazia Toderi at the John Curtin Gallery. Toderi is an artist adept at creating spectacular digital projections characterised by monumental scale and compelling ambivalence. They appear other-dimensional and earthly all at once; cities unfold as dense interstellar constellations with the line between earth and sky indistinct. The projections undergo digital manipulation, with light used as a compositional layering tool. For example, in her 2009 Venice Biennale work, Orbite Rosse (Red Orbits), a dual projection displays a nightscape of Turin as two orbs that slowly transform. Terrestrial and celestial mapping appear to converge in a seeming timelessness that unfolds at a carefully measured pace.

srinivas krishna, my name is raj

Srinivas Krishna with his work My Name is Raj Srinivas Krishna with his work My Name is Raj
photo Toni Wilkinson
My Name is Raj by Canadian filmmaker Srinivas Krishna is like a donkey in a field of stallions, petite in stature, quaint and unique. Its oddity in the context of the theme may be attributed to the fact that it is not concerned directly with light, in the literal sense, but more with the idea of fame and the desire to be under the celebrity spotlight. As an interactive installation it plays upon audience narcissism and folds layers of cultural and historical references into one another—the proto-Bollywood films of Raj Kapoor, photographs of Kapoor starring in his own films in heroic and romantic poses, historical photographs of Indians superimposed in scenes of wealth and fantasy and a make-shift camera studio with an Arcadian backdrop. As audience member, you can catch a film and then fulfil your own wish for fame and glory by having a portrait taken and superimposed in a Kapoor film still, which then becomes your own personal keepsake.

When wielded effectively as a sculptural medium, light not only mesmerises, but also has a transcendental effect. I was compelled to drive through that Norwegian tunnel not once but two or three times simply to reach that immersive artificial wonderland that harmonised so sublimely with the natural wonderland of the fiords beyond. The exhibitions in this year’s Perth Festival each hinted at such an experience, where the combinations of light, colour, scale and form collude to take you, if only momentarily, somewhere else.

Perth International Arts Festival, Jim Campbell, Scattered Light, Kings Park; Luminous Flux, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery; Ross Manning, Volumes, PICA; Grazia Toderi, John Curtin Gallery; Srinivas Krishna, My Name is Raj, Shopfront, Central Institute of Technology; Perth, Feb 8-March 2

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 13

© Laetitia Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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