Tuesday, 24 February 2015

LIght's Festive Tents

Photography is underpinned by metaphysics of sight and shadow. I shall write another time more about Shadows but it seems to me that Shadow is a disruptive element in the conventional painterly dialectic of Figure and Ground. I could argue that Shadow is a more natural counterpart to Ground, these being both of the 2D world and because in painting or photography the Light that reveals Figure is practically limited by Shadow.
As soon as depiction moves away from the Line of pencil and pen, marks made on paper reference the whiteness of the paper as Light and the shading pigment as definition. I have become a big fan of Poussin for his bistre wash studies and for Japanese brush painting in the haboku or broken-ink style.

A strand of research that I followed during my MA year was to study Novalis (1772- 1801), the German philosopher perhaps best known for his 'Hymns to the Night'. In this prose poem written to help Novalis reconcile himself with the prospect of mortality, following Fichte he explores the notion that Reality as Experienced through Vision is driven by Light giving Appearance to Matter. In my disrupted Figure/Ground dialectic the shade gives definition to figure. It is interesting too that the notion of dark matter is all the rage in cosmology these days.

The Early Romantic, in Germany: include Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) struggled within the paradox of maintaining simultaneously a belief in future plenitude and the awareness of its impossibility. They were more fully convinced of their mortality but quested for the immortality of the soul. Their rationale became a hyphenation of poetry and philosophy, system and non-system, reason and chaos, the real and the ideal. Schlegel wrote: "it is equally fatal for the mind to have a system and have none. It will simply have to decide to combine the two".

An [over] indulgence in the freedom of paradox is the fuel stuff of Surrealism, the desire to follow “the trajectory of the dream” through daily life. The Surrealist art world 100 years ago, took to cinema as a duck to water, and more so: passionately, poetically and indeed romantically. In his book on the Surrealist Cinema “The Shadow and its Shadow” Paul Hammond quotes a line of poetry translated from Novalis by Roger Cardinal: "Light sets up its festive tents in spaces unsuspected". There was something in the poetry of this single line that fired my imagination and for my final submission.

I built a light installation. It is to be found in a darkened space as a large cube, glowing from within with a blueish light. It is confidently set against the grain of the room and it contradicts levels by hanging a few degrees off the vertical. Cast shadows of people pass over the surface of the cube -- there is no sound. It is much larger than the viewer's height or arm span, eight foot in each dimension. Inspection of the under side is no more informative, the fabric continues under and the shadows pass over this too. It sways very gently in response to the draught of people passing to emphasise its engagement and detachment with its environment in equal measure.

In the post-modern where paradox and aporia, courtesy of Derrida et al. is unremarked in our existence, I personally have to live and operate within the irony expressed as "just because I can, it does not mean that I should". There were so many strands in this project to run with but in a Minimalist fashion I tried to boil this down to just one conceit.

Large cubes are reasonably common as a construction device but in particular Don Judd’s copper boxes are so full of light that there is no room for anything else: my cube is flooded with UV light only becoming visible in contact with the outer fabric through the material’s fluorescence. The inhabitants of the cube do not become illuminated in this way and to reference Novalis have no appearance in the interior darkness. We only know them by their shadow.

"The uncanny movement of the shadowy figures is suggestive and evocative and, with an economy of means, brings to mind all manner of social situations involving people in space. The blue space of these shadows is equally suggestive. It creates a sublime context for our imaginations to inhabit." 

Certainly, the work has attracted identification as being "about" the Cinema, "about" the Gallery system &c. I cannot argue with any of this, to prefigure Barthes Novalis himself wrote: "The careful reader becomes the true author". However Hymns to the Night is a study of Mortality and thus my piece may be viewed in this context "about" Mortality and the Otherness, the sheer, bloody, Heideggerian, Unheimlich of Life itself.

I am rebuilding this installation as part of Creative Barking and Dagenham (CBD) 2015 Arts programme during March and April. Arts Council England (ACE) Creative People and Places (CPP) is a national action research programme to get more people involved in the arts in areas of least engagement. CBD have an aim to make a long lasting difference to thousands of people in the borough, by involving them with new ideas, hobbies, careers and fun things to do that leave a lasting passion for arts and culture.

A major incentive to me in rebuilding this work is the opportunity to continue a whole line of experimentation with the piece that naturally had to be subordinated to the exam schedule at Winchester. The piece is far too big to set up at home and arranging that much dark space is a challenge. When built, I will get back to the question of what it’s about: for instance, I might try adding a sound-track, maybe cocktail party chatter to play with the notions of exclusiveness within the Gallery system. I am looking forward to running workshops with schools and colleges in reflection on this artwork. If you would like to know more follow https://www.facebook.com/LightsFestiveTentsBarking.

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