Light fantastic

Sometimes there comes along an art exhibition that does what others attempt and fail – to reach into the mind of the punter and fire their sense of wonder and excitement. I’ve just been to see the Light Show exhibition at the South Bank’s Hayward Gallery, and there are some exhibits, no, experiences that were so much fun, I felt compelled to discuss them with complete strangers.

Ok, for those who know me that’s not unusual but the exhibits bring out a need to express how they make you feel. And isn’t that the point of art? To make you feel something, not just ponder it intellectually.

My picks are as follows:

Cylinder II (2012), Leo Villareal

Looking like an oversize chandelier from a 70s concept house, this features vertical metal tracks of white, blinking LEDs arranged in spaced concentric circles. The programmed light patterns flicker and pulse like an energy source. Step back for a much better view.

You and I, Horizontal (2005), Anthony McCall

Steady on there, it may be St Valentine’s Day but we’re not talking about that kind of horizontal. In a dark room (I said steady there at the back!) a shape-shifting cone of light is projected through an atmosphere of stage smoke.

The shape of the cone is intersected by a straight line and gradually the composition shifts, controlled by computer. Stand inside the cone and you see a swirling skin of smoke particles that disappear into blackness where the light is broken.

Chromosaturation (1965-2013), Carlos Cruz-Diez

The most fun you’ll ever have with basic light-colour theory. A square room is divided into three sections lit separately by banks of blue, red and green fluorescent strip-lights.

The space isn’t that big so, around the corner, a deliberate bleed of the next colour mixes with that previous to it. It’s really important to stand and look at a wall of one colour for a few minutes to let your eyes acclimatise before moving on. That way you get the maximum stimulus.

The blue is cooling, but walk into the red room (furthest from blue on the visible spectrum) and your eyes are flamed by the intense colour shift, as if there ought to be a heat source. Next is the relative calm of the green room – sadly without tea and biscuits.

White cubes are hung from the ceiling to reflecting the colours to either side. On the wall behind are splashes of merged colours, where blue meets red and red meets green. It’s such a simple concept, yet so stimulating. It bypasses all your critical faculties and delivers happiness right into your visual cortex.

Reality Show (Silver) (2010), Ivan Navarro

The gallery notes point out that Navarro grew up in Chile under the oppressive regime of General Pinochet (see Film review – No), to steer away from what may be perceived as fairground fun.

In appearance, Reality Show is a heavy-duty stainless-steel phone box, which you enter alone. The door on each side is fitted with a two-way mirror – people can see in, but you can’t see out, only your reflection. Above and below, white LEDs skirt the base and ceiling, reflected into infinity like a starry ventilation shaft. If there’s not too much of a queue, hang about and consider the feeling of solitary confinement in a cell. Try not to think of travelling through time and space as in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Bogus. I guess thoughts like that are the luxury of growing up in a free society.

Model for a timeless garden (2011), Olafur Eliasson

Enter another pitch-black room and strobe lights illuminate a row of fountains that spray water in a variety of jets and umbrella-shapes, the motion intermittently frozen in time. It’s magical. Blobs of rotating water, held together by surface tension, pitch into the darkness. It’s like being inside a giant zoetrope and utterly fantastic.

Light Show is at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre until 28 April. See videos of exhibits at


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