Light and public art

On Thursday night, there was a panel discussion, “Light: Between Art, Architecture and Public Spaces”, at Mars Gallery in Windsor. On my way, I passed a piece of public art in the forecourt above Windsor Station, an antique electric pole with conductors lit like a Xmas tree. Light and shadow as part of public art, as elements themselves or covering architecture with a skin of colours or projections. Due to cool LED lights and powerful digital projectors light in public art is an every night occurrence. There is so much light art around currently (as I write this, a friend is tweeting her photos of Lightscape @royalbotanicgardensvic).

Appropriately, the exhibitions at Mars Gallery were all light art. “This Space of Vibration” by Meagan Streader is in the main gallery space on the ground floor. Her wall-mounted and free-standing sculpture used geometric and architectural forms. There are so many different light-influencing materials in her show, different types of frosted glass, coloured frosted and clear acrylic, neon lights, LED neon flex, and COB LEDs.

In the other gallery spaces on Mars’s different levels, there was “Light Show” with four other artists, including Jason Sims working with light. Sims’ work varied from the elegant geometry, optics and infinite space of his reflective glass and mirror pyramid, Nexus (Iridescent). To the cool poetic neon letters on the top of the three-storey concrete gallery, which read: 

bending, as 

tides into rivers

It was odd to hear light artists talking about natural light on a dark Melbourne night. But, the dark is also a natural lighting effect from the earth’s shadow. Jason Sims and Meagan Streader were both on the panel, and Sarah Box, an associate at Rothelowman. The latter represented the architectural side of the discussion. 

British-based light artist Bruce Munro zoomed in on a large computer screen. Munro is best known for his Field of Light installation. Field of Light has been installed in 17 locations from Ularu, which inspired it, to Simbionte Festival, Mexico City. Munro’s art is currently on exhibition both inside and outside at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. 

It was Bruce Munro who made the most salient point of the discussion. That light is the most cost-effective way of changing a space. Changing the way the place makes you feel, the emotional impact of light.

Light is temporary, ephemeral, changing, illusionary, a wave and a particle depending on how you look at it. I have been in the dark about how to approach this subject, and after the panel discussion, I am only a little better off. You would think that a visual art critic would have often written about light. I only have a high school science class understanding of light and optics. Of course, something as familiar as light often goes unnoticed and unexamined until it isn’t there.

Installation view of part of Meagan Streader’s exhibition “This Space of Vibration”

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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