United in Light – a review of Darren Almond’s ‘To Leave a Light Impression’ and Dale Chihuly’s ‘Beyond the Object’

 

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Light does much to connect us with the world. Its ricocheting rays tell volumes about what’s around us, from the expression on the face of a friend to the condition of a distant star. Little wonder, then, that it is the object of fascination and exploration for artists, to play with the perception that most of us take for granted.

Darren Almond’s long-exposure moonlight photos, now showing at the White Cube, play explicitly with that idea, giving a subtly and intriguingly different image to the ones to which we are used. The sea becomes a cloud of probabilities, double-imaged leaves present a record of their fluttering in some midnight breeze.

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One can feel time passing in these photographs, perhaps thanks to an awareness of the machine producing the image, or a subtle change in light from the moon’s progression in the sky. It’s interesting to become conscious of the mechanism of the eye, to consider the paths of light beams through that internal chamber that tell us about movement and form.

This mechanism, however, is complicated by the form of these prints. The large regions of darkness in these prints become mirrors, and in some cases the photographs themselves are obscured.

In the second series of photos, the standing stones on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, show up crisp and detailed against a luminous cloudy sky. These stones are records of mankind’s remarkable drive to count and so control the passage of time; this precise recording of their visual form shows the heights that this control has reached.

In the same room pairs of brass cylinders lie scattered across the space. Each cylinder represents an astronaut who has walked on the moon, their interiors packed with lead to represent their relative weights in a comment both on the ways that our bodies interact with the earth and the moon, and on the abstracting qualities of measurement.

The back wall of the show is dominated by three enormous panels, a vast tripartite of deep, veined, blue ice from the Perito Moreno Glacier, seeming to glow from thick silver frames. In the right hands this stunning image also imparts information; the accompanying text explains that the blue colour indicates the prehistoric nature of the ice, revealed thanks to humanity’s impact on the environment.

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Impressive in a very different way is the heavy load borne by the glass panels forming the roof of the pagoda-like structure at the centre of Dale Chihuly’s show at the Halcyon. Scattered across its surface are a menagerie of the intensely coloured shapes for which Chihuly is known, trumpets, spires and delicate shells that hover somewhere between the marine and the floral.

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Under this carpet the viewer is transfixed, constantly repositioning to find a new frame, watching and experimenting with the interplay of light and contrasting, combining colour. Though the rest of the show is more traditionally presented that investigation carries on, in the subtleties revealed by the light cast greedily over the surfaces of the room. The lines of illumination, like in a swimming pool, reveal something of the form of the glass, each bump and ripple casting refractions in waves across the walls.

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Most fascinating are the black-and-white pieces resting like underwater skeletons inset in a shining black cabinet. Here the reflections go wild, intense contrasts rebounded but muted, the black edging a delineation of these fascinating explorations of pattern and interference.

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Chihuly’s works are intensely magnetic; deep, red-orange cups, resting one inside the other, are reminiscent in their sumptuousness of Georgia O’Keefe’s semi-erotic flowers, warm and seductive. His standing in the fine art world is perhaps undermined by the enjoyable luxury of his work. He is often labelled a craftsman, a tag given to diminish the depth of his thinking. Where Almond’s works explore topics that leave the earth and investigate the processes that have allowed us to achieve such things, Chihuly seems firmly tied to the body.

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While Almond’s show is thought-provoking and profound, I feel that this kind of investigation may be better experienced in a publication like ‘Fullmoon’, a Hardcover book published by the artist in March. While Chihuly’s works certainly centre around an exploration of beauty, his works teach us just as much about perception and space, though perhaps by a route less shaped by concepts and words.

Darren Almond’s To Leave a Light Impression can be seen at White Cube until March 12th, 2014, and Dale Chihuly’s Beyond the Object can be seen at Halcyon Gallery until April 5th, 2014.

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