Light Show, Hayward Gallery - A Review

Cylinder II I can now understand why tickets to this show are hard to get hold of - it's the most fun and unusual exhibition that I've been to this year.  25 sculptures and installations incorporate artificial light as an integral element of the artwork, sometimes exhibiting light itself, sometimes exploring it's perceptual effects.  Light is uniquely able to influence our perceptions and mood, so a showcase of light as the medium was irresistible.  Between the different works, light is explored as a spatial and environmental experience, a factor of psychological influence, and an intangible sculptural medium.  Quite the visual smorgasbord.

Kids absolutely love it.  Rather than having to stand and look at works of art, they can play and engage with it, and that spirit of fun infects the attending adults, too.  The very nature of most of the installations mean that moving around them, engaging with them, and seeing them from different angles, results in different experiences and discoveries - so it is a wonderfully interactive exhibition.

Light Show exhibition at Hayward Gallery, London

Each of the installations use light in a different way - Anthony McCall's You And I, Horizontal, projects a cone of white light across a lightly fogged, darkened room.  Walking around and through the projection, the viewer breaks the light-beam, which appears convincingly solid - to the extent that I was certain that I could feel a tingling sensation as my arm passed through it.

Olafur Eliasson has combined light and water to create what appears to be an ice garden - 27 different water fountains are frozen for split seconds in time by strobe lights, giving a unique insight into how water falls, and giving us the impression that what we see is frozen ice rather than water.  It is only due to the "sculpture" before us changing with each flash that we know that what we see is fluid.  There is a sense of magic and wonder here - to reach out and touch it would be to destroy the illusion - so, as in film, we suspend our disbelief and enjoy it for the spectacle that it is.


The first piece that greets you is Leo Villareal's Cylinder II - columns of LEDs that create patterns reminiscent of meteor showers or monsoon rain.  A similar effect is seen in Jim Campbell's Exploded View (Commuters) - lights suspended on wires appear to twinkle at random, but as you walk around it, the patterns and movements line up to create a low resolution moving image.  I actually gasped with delight when I saw it.

Others have a more subtle reason to be appreciated - Katie Paterson has painstakingly recreated the exact colour of Moonlight in a bulb - whereas most bulbs are designed to emulate the light of the Sun.  The irony here is that artificial light is making it increasingly difficult to see the light of the Moon from cities.

In Conrad Shawcross' Slow Arc Inside A Cube IV, the shadows of a cube rush towards and away from you, as the light rotates inside a cage.  It creates a disconcerting feeling, making the viewer feel as if he is also trapped inside the cage, but a nightmarish one that is constantly expanding and contracting.

You might come out of this exhibition feeling like you've been on an adventure, that your perceptions have been played with, and that light is more than just a tool to illuminate objects.  However you might just come out thinking that you've had a lot of fun.  Or both.  Either way, do what you can to see it before it's gone

Light Show is at the Hayward Gallery until May 6th.  For visitor information and tickets, visit the South Bank Centre website.