come on baby!
When we think of an artwork, what usually comes to our mind is a painting made on canvas or a sculpture in wood or stone. But if there’s something contemporary artists can teach us, it’s that art can be any object to which we assign a certain value or meaning (good examples being M. Duchamp’s Fountain, consisting of a porcelain urinal, or T. Emin’s My Bed showing the artist’s unmade bed). That is why today we are going to look at artworks made of…light. Neon and LED lamps, which tend to evoke mostly advertising signs, turn out to be the perfect art material, too!
The minimal artist specializing in light-art installations – and whom I’ve already covered here at Artbuk – is Dan Flavin. His works are a fun play of colorful light and space. By filling gallery with fluorescent lamps, Flavin transforms empty rooms into sculptural installations where the colored glow is the protagonist.
Light art of a more abstract nature is also the domain of Lisa Schulte, also known as the “The Neon Queen”. Sometimes she uses only neon tubes, bending them and forming abstract colorful tangles a la twisted headphone cables; other times, she juxtaposes them with pieces of wood, exposing and comparing two entirely different materials. Esther Ruize, for his part, captivates viewers with art that hypnotizes and plays with the sense of sight. This is achieved by placing neon pipes on round mirror panes, making the installation resemble a bottomless well that one can fall into – a bit like what happened to Alice in Wonderland!
When talking about neon and LED artworks, it is impossible to ignore those depicting single words or whole inscriptions. In the past, neon lights used to serve strictly informational and advertising functions, but they can also be an excellent carrier of artistic content. In that vein, two artists in particular have grabbed my attention. One is Joseph Kosuth – famous for his typographic installations. He supports the idea of ’art for the sake of art’, where art does need to be at all aesthetic or metaphysical. His works are often self-explanatory, as is the case with the installation Four Colors Four Words consisting literally of four words in four colors made of neon tubes.
The other artist is Tim Etchells who takes his art well beyond the walls of galleries and museums. Instead, he sets up his letter-filled installations in urban settings. While the racks are clearly visible during the day, a surreal effect is obtained after dark, as if the inscriptions were floating in the air. A random encounter with art in public space is likely to perplex and surprise most passers-by, and this is exactly the effect that Etchells was going for.
Looking at light art, one would like to sing: Come on baby, light my… ART!