Thursday, June 19, 2008

Olafur Eliasson : “Take Your Time” exhibit and Paul Chan : “The 7 Lights” exhibit

It’s a funny coincidence that the past two art shows I saw featured light installations. Olafur Eliasson’s Take Your Time at the MoMA and Paul Chan’s The 7 Lights at the New Museum on Bowery were each interesting experiences but I wasn’t blown away by either one.

Chan’s light projections onto walls, ceilings and floors utilized silhouettes of people and objects which created surreal moments that ranged from humorous to horrific. Objects alternately floated upward from the ground or fell from the sky. Not having been in New York at the time, I sheepishly admit to needing a friend to point out the allusion to 9/11 of the figures plummeting to the ground. Chan was obviously infusing references to the Gulf War and political events with outlines of oil tankers, guns and gas station pumps.

What intrigued me the most was Chan’s altering of perception. Perspective was intentionally skewed by having objects move in different directions. He was obscuring our ability to tell which way was up or down. The light projectors were positioned in places that allowed for passer-bys to incorporate their own shadows moving across the images, creating yet another possible orientation.

The 1st Light piece was a strong example of his focus on light and dark. As a designer, negative space is something that is considered as strong and integral element as positive space. (Geeky Designer Fun Fact: ever notice the white arrow created in the nook of the E and x in the FedEx logo?) With this piece, one could stare that this light projection on the dark floor and see it as a hole or window down into a lit area below. Or it could be perceived as an illuminated surface sitting above the black floor.

I’m assuming that is the correct interpretation of the strikethrough in the title. The exhibit is about light but is also equally about the absence on light. Like when we focus our eyes on something distant and then focus on something near, we have the ability to shift how our eyes and brains see things.

This was my first venture into the New Museum, which has been getting mixed reviews. I will say that I try to take any art seriously and examine it for its merits. But in this case, my friend and I had to agree that much of what was featured in the rest of the museum just seemed like the result of an angst-ridden, shallow junior high art class.

As for Eliasson’s exhibit at the MoMA, the light installations weren’t the sole component of his work, but seem to me the most successful and striking portions.

The introduction to the exhibit was pretty effective: viewers ride the escalator upwards, see a yellow light seeping out from above, and upon entering get immersed in a yellow hued room. All other color is obliterated by the yellow lights. Clothes, skin tones, everything becomes monochromatic. The effort was somewhat stunted by the propagation of Photoshop and digital cameras that can achieve this visual effect on the fly. Sadly, instead of it being a mind-blowing experience, it’s more of a “wow, that’s pretty cool” moment.

What was successful, in my opinion, was how Eliasson was able to use these environments to incorporate the viewers into the art. People weren’t standing in a big yellow room amazed at the walls, they were reacting to themselves and each other bathed in the light. Again and again, through the use of mirrors, light rooms or even just a blowing fan whimsically swinging around just above people’s heads, Eliasson created art that could only really exists through the interaction of the viewer.

In the giant prism room, viewers could watch their shadows playfully shift along the wall. I stood completely still and observed my form fade in and out of multi-colored light, multiply and slide across the room. The photographs fail to do the room justice. My pictures make it look like a cheap computer effect but the personal experience is much more impressive.

My favorite moment was trying to photograph a little girl in the 360 degree color spectrum room. As you could imagine with any small child, it was tough to get a good shot of her since she was romping around the entire room. I was also trying to be discreet and not look like some creepy pedophile. I tried my best...

I was alternately impressed and annoyed with the use of both the MoMA and P.S.1 spaces for the exhibit. Trekking out to Queens was a bit tedious but I was also glad to finally see such a great space. I loved how they’re using an old school building as a first-class museum. Good work, people!

More photos are up on my Flickr page.

1 comment:

J.Rock. said...

You should definitely read the article in the New Yorker about The 7 Lights if you haven't already. It might have been more interesting than the exhibit.