Light art harnesses light, be it natural or artificial, to create powerful artistic statements. It can be temporary or permanent, ranging from large scale, outdoor public artworks to subtle indoor installations.
Some artists capture the wonder of natural light, while others make sculptures that produce electric light, exploring increasing developments in LED technology. One of the most powerful and best known examples is Olafur Eliasson’s giant artificial sun in The Weather Project, which lit up the entire Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2003.
In the 1960s light art became an increasingly popular feature in modern art, running in tandem with Minimalism, which celebrated clean, pure lines and a machine-like aesthetic. In the United States various artists led the way into the Light and Space movement, which had an international influence in the next few decades.
Dan Flavin was a major figure, producing quasi-religious installations and geometric arrangements with found fluorescent light tubes. James Turrell captured natural light in powerful sculptural constructions; his ‘Skyspace’ installations open large windows into the sky beyond from architectural chambers, allowing natural light to flood through in its many permutations and weather patterns.
Art historian Calvin Tompkins writes, “(Turrell’s) work is not about light, or a record of light; it is light – the physical presence of light made manifest in sensory form.”
In today’s pluralist society many light artists overlap their art practices with other art forms such as audio-visual installation and kinetic art, blurring boundaries between mediums. Grimanesa Amoros incorporates video, lighting, technology and sculpture into her light art installations to
create engaging responses to the architecture around her.
Jim Campbell combines LED light features with elements of film and sound, producing dramatic public art installations such as Swirl, in which a series of coloured LED lights spin around a network of 18 hoops in a dizzying haze of activity, while Angus Muir lit up a cable car tunnel in New Zealand, transforming it into a fiesta of colour and light.
David Spriggs creates abstract, enigmatic light sculptures that invite open interpretation, such as Vision II, set in Messums Wiltshire, bringing spectral auras of light into a 13 th century barn space as a reminder of our ancient fascination with light’s magical, otherworldly properties.
Amanda Parer’s installation Intrude, is on a much grander scale, with a series of giant, nylon inflatable bunnies that have toured more than 12 international venues. At night, they light up internally, taking on a strange, hallucigenic quality. Far from being cute pets, Parer’s enlarged rabbits highlight a more serious message, raising awareness of their role as endemic pests in her native Australia.
Many light art installations exist in the cities around us as public works of art, taking a variety of temporary and permanent forms, including neon signage, advertising slogans and large scale installations in public buildings, museums, and city centres, revealing the hugely spirited and adventurous ways artists continue to expand its boundaries.
Martin Creed’s light art takes the form of ambiguous public art slogans emblazoned across a range of buildings to invite deeper consideration or appreciation of place. His 25 foot tall, tomato red neon sign Understanding, 2016, on the East river in Brooklyn, asks us to consider the meaning of the word in both personal and wider political contexts.
The range of light art being made today is celebrated every year at the Amsterdam Light Festival, where artists from all over the world gather to showcase innovative and forward looking designs. Aspects of light art also form an important role at the Kinetica Art Festival, in which artists combine light art with audio-visual and kinetic elements to create powerful, awe
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