This weekend I took my family to see the popular light exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank. Whether consciously or unconsciously this comes off the back of my interest with lighting as a medium to communicate, as illustrated with my earlier blog post Robbie the Robot.
Some of the displays on show illustrated how lighting can alter our sense of perception. A strobe light changed the form of a series of water features along one side of the room. But for me the greatest sensation was what you could hear. Because the room was entirely black it was hard to get the sense of the room’s dimensions. I got the impression of my hearing becoming more acute to the sound of water rushing. It sounded more like a torrent but without the accompanying air pressure you feel when outdoors.
It wasn’t just sound. In the main hall there were these three columns of lights, which were easily 10 or 15 feet high. These columns would gently pulse on and off like the light on a Mac book. But it was the sensation of heat radiating out from them that I think played a factor in people being drawn to it much like a moth to a flame.
For me the Hayward Gallery exhibition was just about shade as it was about light. There were rooms where the light was so subtle it could only be displayed in near darkness. In one instance you could hear a staff member guiding people to one of the displays down a pitch black corridor. Eventually your eyes become adjusted to the low levels of light and you have a heightened sense of colour.
There was also a display that looked like a telephone box that you enter in one door and out the other. This used mirrors and lighting to give the illusion of infinite space above and below you. It’s quite disconcerting to see nothing below your feet, just a black hole. Of course this is nothing new. I’m reading Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant on the golden age of magic in the 19th Century. In it all kinds of mind-boggling tricks with lighting and mirrors to make things disappear or in some cases appear out of nowhere like ghostly apparitions.
It’s no coincidence that over 150 years later that our perception of what is around us is still influenced by lighting. Especially in our supersaturated consumption of film and TV.
Later that day I asked my 5 year old daughter what she thought of the exhibition. Kids are incredibly honest with there responses and she asked what I meant. For her there was no distinction between art and life. Life is art and art is life. Sometimes its us adults who could learn a thing or two.