Color, Light, and Clouds: The Art of Thomas Wilfred

Here light is the artist’s sole medium of expression.

He must mould it by optical means,

almost as a sculpture models clay.

He must add color, and finally motion to his creation. 

Motion, the time dimension, demands that he must

be a choreographer in space. 

~Thomas Wilfred

How do you play light? How do you change noise, which is not-matter, into light, which is not-matter, and come away with an experience, which certainly matters?

In the charcoal grey, cave-like gallery space, ghostly, glowing forms draw you toward them. How can a form without mass have such gravity?

Part lava lamp, part screen saver, part soul trapped in a simple frame – the screens are opuses. This one, Counterpoint in Space, Op. 146 is an eternal smokey vapor trapped in a box. It ‘s like watching a sunrise through a puff of vape smoke: sweet and ghostly and just a little off-putting if you get too close. It is an always-shifting, rose-green, meditative viewing experience.

Throughout the exhibition there is a contrast of weightless, noiseless, changing color-forms, with the heavy wooden boxes that ground them, frame them, and ultimately allow them to exist. Here, a cage is a life source.

Track the light, follow the smoke. This is the world of a busy, multitasking mind – a dream-place built by a conductor of light. This is proof that light can be bent and moved and taught to behave, though it remains unburdened by its task.

At first glance there is stillness, then a gentle, bleeding, lazily drifting spread of brightness.

Wilfred believed that imagination was a concept, and that reality was the physical equipment which made it possible. The artist’s role is to make people believe that what they see on screen is actually a window; that the world of light and color and emotion and form captured in brief is all around us.

It’s all about laying back and finding shapes in the clouds.

 

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC until January 7, 2018.

Advertisements

Window World

The way my lights reflect in the window make it look like the trees are draped with a luminous shawl. Little yellow specks, glowing, are tucking between the branches. Birds perch among them – next to, beside, under. Though they can’t see the shine of the lights, illuminated only in the glass of my window, they fit perfectly among the illusion.

As the natural light changes throughout the day – the sky suiting itself for morning, dusk, darkness – the lights become my secret constellation. Hung delicately for no one, accidentally stuck between wall and bricks and glass and air. They stretch from one tree to another, hanging down between two more. The strand doesn’t know that while on the wall it covers a few feet, in the window world it morphs into more.

The little bulbs make a trail – appearing to have a beginning and an end, but with no tangible place to set your foot and begin.

If only you were able to climb light up the side of a building, as though it were ivy, and tiptoe across the glittering high wire, between the silhouettes of birds and branches.

Dreamlands

yalkut_1_635_1140

Jud Yalkut “Destruct Film” – 1967

Screen. Light and shadows dance and mix and chase. There is movement across and in between. The screen runs up against the darkness. Or maybe there is no screen, just a wall and a projected image. Out of a machine little particles fly, looking for something to knock up against and explode – illuminate.

Sound. Whir buzz crash. Cymbals. Crash. A low hum of a projector. A voice that is not human but is familiar.

Hallways connect light and sound. A voice bleeds into the click of the projector. One dark room becomes another – keep your bearings so you don’t get lost in this world. White becomes pink, neon, green. (Alex Da Corte and Jaysson Musson “Easternsports”) Each moment you are in front of, inside, in between. In between.

Between walls, between light particles, between sounds, between works of art, between understandings and thoughts. Just as fast in and out of one and another as the images come and go before your gaze. In between moments of wonder and engagement.

In between dreams and consciousness.

In low light, snippets of sound drift out of indistinguishable aboves. You can hold light, catch the projector beam in your hand, then cough in the smoke, move, release, and it is gone. (Anthony McCall “Line Describing a Cone”) Open your eyes from one darkness to the next and catch at the memory, try to grasp it as the last tendrils fade and the dream, only an imagined memory to begin with, is now another degree removed.

The confetti of it sticks in your brain – falling upon you at strange times. The confetti of film crunches under your feet – hold it up to the light of another film being projected. Your shadow interrupts that of another on the wall. 5 – 4 – 3 – crunch under feet – out of the gallery and into the next. (Jud Yalkut “Destruct Film”)

Images come and go like fireflies blinking in and out – magical and speedy. (Philippe Parreno “With a Rhythmic Instinction to be Able to Travel Beyond Existing Forces of Life”) It is enchanting to watch life that is not life like ours but somehow still gets it.

You are enveloped and it is a game. You watch or play or exist. (Hito Steyerl “Factory of the Sun”)  Somehow every part of it gets bundled up in the blue light, and play and commentary and reality are all confused.

Because it is real. And it is a reality beyond touch, but within feeling. A dreamland.

 

“Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art 1905-2016” is on view at the Whitney until February 5, 2017

Image: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/Dreamlands?&artwork_id=17251&filter_id=73