Sunday, June 29, 2008

misty light, hot white, ghost sheen

It's the last Sunday of the Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) show "Take Your Time" (Aprl 20 - June 30) split between The Museum of Modern Art and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York.  The scorching humidity outside barely let up today even when the skies ripped open and deluged the Gay Pride marchers.  The weather inside was just as affecting.

The MOMA show is made up of thirteen large scale and effective pieces, including a wildly swinging fan cum pendulum, kaleidoscope rooms, long corridors in a monofrequency yellow, strobe-caught water drips, and a moss covered wall.  Frequently, Eliasson's tools are utterly simple (small motors that rotate wires, strobes, mirrors), but the effects -- because of the complicated unspeakability of one's associations to light, mood, memory, damp, dark and breeze -- defy simple analysis.  References abound, of course, to a generation of Southern Californian light artists (James Turrell, Robert Irwin); to Larry Bell's boxes; and even, by antithesis, to Judd and Serra (Eliasson's "1 cubic meter of light" - a misty box made of light beams), but the pieces work well without knowing any names.  One finds joy (kids love chasing the swirling fan), mystery, meditation; one feels the weight of light (the yellow corridor reduces and transforms fabrics and skin into variations of tweed and plastic); one lingers and breathes.

While aspects of the P.S.1 show on the other side of the river seemed more like marginalia (and here I am thinking of Eliasson's numerous musings on geodesic domes, kaleidoscopes and filtered glass in the side galleries), the curators' use of the old public school building was brilliant: on the top floor (in the stifling heat) were placed Eliasson's luminescent pieces; on the basement floor (in the cool musty half-light) the water works.  Spending time alternating from top to bottom was akin to spending time in the Russian baths: heating, exhaustion, relaxation, healing.

The P.S.1 crowd favorite was likely the gigantic foil mirror suspended and rotating above the reclining visitors, but for me  the most hard hitting of the entire two-site show were (upstairs) the "Neutral Light Set-up" (a room bathed in ever changing hues of off-white light) and (downstairs) "Beauty" (a billowy iridescent curtain of mist in a dark vault).

Despite the heat, I found myself camped on the floor of the neutral light room (see video) in utter amazement of the ephemeral, the powerful emotional connotations (cloud sky sheen) of the hues and they way they painted the walls.  All of a sudden, some five minutes into my meditation, perhaps under the bright white, all the floaters in the back of my eyes came into view and lingered.

If a person could marry a piece of art, I would propose to Eliasson's Beauty.  The mist falls not as streams or a flattened sheet, but in a undulating pillowy-ness that catches the light on one side and shimmers in rainbow threads, while from the back the white glow lights it like a waterfall seen from cave mouth.  People irresistibly need to touch the spray, some blow on it, some walk through it (from the back, the effect is highly cinematic), and from the right spot one knows what it means to love with a fire light heart.

(NB: while MOMA has a camera (no flash) ok policy, P.S.1, strangely, has a no-camera rule.  Get it together guys!) 

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