I rarely get the opportunity to bang on about modern art on this blog, but thanks to the organizers of the Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf, the opportunity has presented itself.
Do you actually have to be interested in art to enjoy the Winter Lights festival? No, of course not. The whole point is to involve everyone, no matter what their interests. The whole experience is terrific, enjoyable, fun. I visited on Monday evening and again today with a friend, and the place was full of people of all ages and descriptions thoroughly enjoying the 18 spectacles. On Monday a small minority had vast cameras mounted on tripods (probably from the press) but most on Monday and all on Thursday were clicking with ordinary cameras and camera-phones and everyone was fascinated, with a lot having fun with the interactive installations.
The key to enjoyment is simple - it's completely free of charge, so print off the map from the Winter Lights website, go when it's dark (which turned out to be 5pm this week), wrap up warm and take a brolly, because most of it is outdoors. It's probably best to read the online brochure before you go unless, like me, you are intending to go twice. If you are only going once and you don't read the brochure you will miss some of the fun because there are no information boards at the installation and it does help to know how some of them are supposed to work, particularly the interactive ones. And then simply take some time at each installation to engage with the luminous shapes, the vibrant, fluid colours, and to play with the installations where play is both expected and encouraged. It's lovely. And Canary Wharf at night is a fabulous light-show in it's own right. What's not to enjoy?
If you are going by tube, be aware that Canary Wharf is chaos on the return leg to Surrey Quays on weekdays. I arrived at about 5.15 and left at about 7.30 on Monday and about 6.45 on Thursday. the latter was bedlam, with people queuing to get on the Jubilee Line heading west. I got on the eastbound, hopped off at North Greenwich, where there were no queues, and came back to Canada Water. I'd have taken the Thames Clipper home if I'd realized.
I've described my own take on each of the 18 installations below, accompanied by photographs from my visit on Monday. For those who are interested in the background to the incorporation of artificial light into art, read on for an ultra-short beginner's guide. It's a piece of pure self-indulgence so if you just want to get an idea of what you're likely to see, just skip ahead to the Winter Lights photographs to see what's on on display at Canary Wharf until the 22nd.
You can click on any of the photographs below to see the bigger image.
Light in Art History
|László Moholy-Nagy's "Light-Space Modulator," |
first displayed in 1930
(Photo from the socks-studio website)
Light is essential to all art, of course. Artists like J.M.W. Turner, whose Fighting Temeraire depicted a romanticized view of the old Trafalgar veteran being towed down to Rotherhithe for breaking up used light to create specific moods, ideas and sensations. Only slightly later, the Impressionists consciously exploited light in its various forms as a fundamental belief about the re-interpretation art, often painting outdoors rather than in studios, and capturing a sense of movement, transience and energy through different approaches to lighting scenes and people. Even landscapes and waterscapes, essentially captured like snapshots of time, are imbued with ideas about the immutability of weather effects that contain a sense of endless combinations of shifting clouds, multi-coloured skies, sunshine, dappled light and impermanence. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, as art exploded in various directions, concepts of light, movement and three-dimensional rendering of images were incorporated into abstract art.
|Naum Gabo's beautiful |
"Linear Construction in Space"
Possibly the first piece of art that was explicitly designed as an installation that manipulated light to create its impact was László Moholy-Nagy's Light-Space Modulator, first displayed in 1930. It combined metal and glass, arranged on a circular rotating base, and employed white and coloured light to shift its form and create shadows that extended its reach beyond the purely material. He recognized that light had kinetic properties, that art could actually move, transform and reinvent itself every time it shifted even slightly. Only a little later, the stunningly ethereal and multi-planed sculptures of Constructivist and Bauhaus member Naum Gabo incorporated ambient lighting into his designs, exploiting light to define sharp edges and fragile spidery networks. The works of artists like Moholy-Nagy, Gabo influenced others who also explored the properties of light in their art like Zdenek Pešánek and Thomas Wilfred, and photographers Barbara Morgan and Andreas Feininger.
|Connected approaches, 1987|
by Paulo Scirpa, from the
|"One Hundred Live and Die" |
by Bruce Nauman, 1984
|Arik Levy's "D-Day: From primitive to virtual," 2005|
Photo from Arik Levy Studios website.
|Light Show, Hayward Gallery, 2013|
|Fantastic Planet by Amanda Parer. |
(On the map no.18, in Westferry Garden)
The Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf 2016
The first time I visited, on Monday 11th, I did so without looking at the brochure so that I would respond honestly to the installations, rather than being influenced by the descriptions of what I should be seeing and how I should be reacting. This was quite telling. In some cases I responded in just the way that the artist would have wanted. In other cases I missed the point entirely. For example one installation that was intended to create a feeling of empathy for the downtrodden seemed quite upbeat to me. I always feel that it is is a measure of how successful a piece of art is when the artist and audience arrive at the same conclusion, so whether my failure is down to me or to the artist is endlessly debatable. It didn't matter - the entire experience of Winter Lights was enjoyable even whether or not I received the intended message! Having said that, if you are only intending to visit once, it would make a lot of sense to read the information brochure on the Winter Lights website because you will get far more out of the installations if you know what they are designed to do.
|Map from the Winter Lights brochure showing |
the location of the installations.
This contains spoilers - explanations from the brochure of what each installation is supposed to represent, as well as my own responses to them before and after I had read the brochure. If you want to go and see them without knowing what they are intended to represent, read this after your visit! All the photographs in this section are mine. Where text explaining the pieces is quoted or paraphrased it is from the Winter Lights brochure. All the comments and opinions about the installations as they appeared to me in Canary wharf are mine.
|Fantastic Planet by Amanda Parer. |
(No.18, in Westferry Garden)
|"Chorus" by Ray Lee|
(No. 17, Columbus Courtyard)
|"Totem" by Bitone Collective|
(Number 16 in Cabot Square).
|By Nathaniel Rackowe|
No.1 at One Canada Square (indoors)
At the opposite end of the spectrum in this set of three is "Black Shed Expanded," the only one of the pieces given a title. This pretty much says what it does on the tin - backlit black-painted panels leaning up against a wall. In some ways it has more in common with 2-dimensional Cubism than any of the more explicitly 3-dimensional pieces on display in the festival, capturing something everyday but giving it such an unfamiliar context. Different from both, but still using the same fluorescent white and pea-soup green is Rackowe's third piece, which has a real presence in spite of being entirely static, possibly because of the crazy angle at which it sits, and the open-sided dark panels that give glimpses into the inner workings. Like it or loath it, it is certainly arresting and, taken together, there is certainly a feeling of urban architecture about the pieces.
|"Liquid Space 6.1" by Daan Roosegaarde|
No.3 at Adams Plaza
|Light Sphere 1 by|
No2 at Adams Plaza
|"We Could Meet" by Martin Richman|
No.3 in the channel at Crossrail Place
|"A Parallel Image" by Gebhard Sengmuller.|
Number 5 at Crossrail Place, Lower Level 3.
"A Parallel Image" consists of two light panels connected by a glorious mass of copper wire. Images are projected onto the first panel and transmitted down the wires to the panel opposite. According to the brochure, every single pixel is transmitted on a separate one of the copper wires, and there are an awful lot of them! Stand at the panel at the far end and gesticulate, and the image will be transmitted to the other panel for others to see. It's really effective! Like some of the other installations, the combination of light, motion and vivid colour (in this case the copper wires) is truly fascinating. Its intention is to provide the viewer with a direct experience of how images are communicated, to make the process very nearly transparent. Whether or not you see it like that, it is a shocking time-waster and very lovely.
|"Moon" by Daniel Iregui|
No. 5 at Crossrail Place,
Lower Level 3
|"Aura " by Philips Lighting Design|
No.7, Crossrail Place
|Video still from the Lumen Prize Exhibition|
No.8 at Crossrail Place
|"bit-fall" by Julius Popp|
No.15 at Chancellor Passage in
I made my way first to No.15, which is the dramatic "bit.fall" by Julius Popp, which is at the end of Chancellor Passage but is actually suspended over the dock (Middle Dock). It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. The first impression is simply one of words fading in and out from an overhead bar, but when you get close you realize that the effect is being created by water and light combined, the water falling into the dock below and creating an attractive sound to accompany the light effect. It is inspired by live news feeds, of the sort that are transmitted on at least one building in Canary Wharf. The words shown are seemingly random, including Ready, Right, Women, Faces and Arsenal (just the ones I photographed), and according to the brochure "is a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we experience each day, creating a play between technology and its relationship with the natural elements." If all news broadcasts were this enchanting one might never stop watching.
|"Infinity Pools" by Stephen Newby|
No.14, in Middle Dock
|"Globoscope" by Collectif Coin|
No.11 in Jubilee Park
|"My Light is Your Light" by Alaa Minawi|
No. 10 in Jubilee Park.
|"On The Wings of Freedom" by Aether and Hemera|
No.13, in Jubilee Park
|"The Pool" by Jen Lewin|
No.9, Montgomery Square
I loved the Winter Lights festival. It was food for thought, it was often intriguing, sometimes it was bewildering, it was frequently very beautiful, but most of all it was fun to get out there and experience all the different things that could be done with artificial lighting and a lot of imagination.
Others that worked well were those, like "bit.fall" (15) over Middle Dock and that had a dramatically transitional element built into them. Of course the giant white inflatable man, "Fantastic Planet" (18) at Westferry Garden, had an impact all of its own.
Canary Wharf is a mixed blessing as a setting. In some ways it might be better to see the installations against a dark background instead of set against the brilliance of the office buildings, and I do wonder if "Light Sphere I" (2) and "Chorus" (17) failed to make an impact because they needed a dark background to set them off. But at the same time, the walls of light surrounding all 15 outdoor installations put them in the context that gave life to them in the first place. A dilemma.
If you're in two minds about it, just go and have a look. If nothing else, it's fun to watch how other people react to the various installations.