Sharjah’s Light Show sees light in a different dimension
A world-class art exhibition, spanning five decades of works, is an illuminating experience for visitors in Sharjah.
Light Show, which opened yesterday at Sharjah Art Foundation and runs until December 5, presents light used in sculptures, as installation, as pure colour and even as optical illusion.
Weaving in and out of the six art spaces that inhabit Sharjah’s Al Mareija district, just off the city’s Corniche, a visitor is drawn to the artworks like a moth to a flame. They command attention and dictate the pace of the show in a way that is rare with art in any other format.
It doesn’t matter in which room you begin; you can spend hours exploring the spaces, becoming mesmerised and letting your senses guide you.
Light Show is a travelling exhibition that began in London’s Hayward Gallery in 2013 and was shown in Auckland and Sydney before arriving in Sharjah. The original idea, says Cliff Lauson, the show’s curator, was to focus on “light as a sculptural object, and how it commands space”, as well as the “ingrained physiological responses” we have to light.
The starting point for the show was two pieces by Dan Flavin, an American artist whose work with light gained him global acclaim. Untitled (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow) from 1968 is the artist’s first coloured work, and is installed in Sharjah’s Building F alongside another piece, The Nominal Three (To William of Ockham), from 1963.
“These are the earliest works in the show,” says Lauson. “They show how Flavin developed his artistic vocabulary using ready-made neon tubes and then experimenting with colour panels, which essentially led him to painting with light.”
Flavin’s placing of the light sources either on the ground or in the corner of a room also radically changed how audiences came to view art in the 1960s, and was another reason why Lauson chose him as the starting point for the exhibition.
The other pieces in the show represent different aspects of light. With Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight, Katie Paterson, a Berlin-based British artist, uses a naked light bulb to force us to consider the gentle light of the moon.
François Morellet, a French artist, uses neon tubing to distort the simple circle into a geometric sculpture, while in Model for a Timeless Garden, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson lights up a series of water fountains with a strobe, which creates static images of a moving object.
The theatrical nature of the show and its experiential elements make it something that is sure to draw the crowds in the coming months. Lauson says a key aspect to curating the exhibition was to let the works lead the way. “In today’s society, light totally surrounds us,” he says. “Cities are getting brighter and we live in a world of constant illumination, even down to the fact that everyone has phones that are themselves light sources and all have torch functions.
“For this show, we have dimmed everything else down so the pace of engagement will change and shift. The works will ask you to slow down and appreciate the different aspects of light.”
The wonderful thing about Sharjah Art Foundation as a venue, Lauson continues, is the sheer volume of space it offers. In some of the larger buildings, he has placed single works, such as James Turrel’s Wedgework V from 1974, which plunges the viewer into darkness and into a space of contemplation upon a reddish wedge of light he seems to have carved out of the wall.
In Building I, meanwhile, David Batchelor’s Magic Hour is a collection of recycled shop signs that faces the wall and gives off a halo of colour that stems from “an interest in the contrast between pure natural light and the kitsch of artificial light”. It is placed in the vast hall with only one other work, Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II, a column of constantly flickering LEDs that sparkle and shine, compelling the viewer to watch its display.
Perhaps the most popular work will prove to be Carlos Cruz Diez’s Chromosaturation – three adjacent rooms filled with intense colour baths of red, green and blue that will require the visitor to put on shoe covers before entering to preserve the clean whiteness of the space.
But whatever piece you decide is your favourite, there is a good chance you will end up returning for another visit just to make sure.
• Light Show runs until December 5 at Sharjah Art Foundation. For more information, visit www.sharjahart.org
Updated: September 20, 2015 04:00 AM