I see a darkness: light and its lack.

Tacita Dean Film 2011

Tacita Dean Film (2011)

A Journey up to London to see Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. I had forgotten that Tacita Dean’s piece Film, was the latest Installation for The Turbine Hall, and as such I was unprepared for the dark shadow that the installation casts into the hall. As you walk into the building you are met by a distinct lack of light, Film’s distant gloaming summoning you down, deeper into the darkness. Like the secular light of an avant-garde Cathedral window the strip of enlarged Film hangs in the night which lurks at the end of the Turbine Hall.

As I watched the eleven-minute loop, looping, I felt myself succumb to its soporific lull, staring through the images into my own thinking. The echo of intermittent footsteps as people approached and moved away became a soundtrack assisting my drift. Although slightly disturbed by the stationary sprockets, which add a frame of pretense to the reality of the film, I sat here silently watching time passing me by: ‘waiting without waiting for’.

I must confess that I am partial to watching nothing happen, especially when it doesn’t happen very slowly. In 2001 Dean’s show at Tate Britain allowed me to sit on the melancholic carousal of Berlin’s Fernsehturm television tower: I sat there for several rotations, listening to the ticking chronometer of the 16mm projector with occasional accompaniment from the man on the Fernsehturm’s organ (this all does sound unintentionally seaside).

Gerhard Richter Baader Meinhof

Design for Speaker no. 7

The grey melancholy of Gerhard Richter’s Baader Meinhof room added to the gloomy pall falling over the day (in an act of unintentional irony, every room in the Richter exhibition had  a sign saying Photography is strictly forbidden) . At the RA’s Building the Revolution I discovered Gustav Klutsis’s Design for Loudspeaker No. 7 and the sublime squares, lines and circles of Rodchenko, Malevich, and Lisitsky (forms also found in Tacita Dean’s Film). But even these transcendent ‘archetonics’ had a shadow cast over them, when seen in the photographic company of the architecture they inspired. Beautiful forms, flowing with function, left to crumble and rot; one of the remaining ‘palaces’ now with its insides ripped out as it was transformed into the foyer of a bank.

Today I found comfort in the discovery of Arthur Zajonc’s book Catching the Light, which was waiting for me on the Oxfam shelf. A ‘multi-levelled history’ of light, the first few pages reveal light itself to be darkness. Zajonc conducted an experiment in which he created a ‘region of space’ (a box) filled only with light: a space in which ‘light does not illuminate any interior objects or surfaces’. What does he see when he looks into light alone: “Absolute darkness! I see nothing but the blackness of empty space […] The space is clearly not empty but filled with light. Yet without an object on which the light can fall, one sees only darkness.’ Following a discussion with the Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Zajonc realised that even the outer space in which our planet floats, the darkness of light is omnipotent: ‘The sun’s light, although present everywhere, fell on nothing and so nothing was seen. Only darkness.’

I see a darkness indeed.

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