McCall light sculptures pierce Berlin black box
Enter the soaring exhibition hall of Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof and you feel as if you are faced with an eerie science-fiction film set.
Colossal cones of light pierce the misty, darkness, beckoning the visitor to tread within their silvery forms, in this new exhibition of British-born artist Anthony McCall's so-called "light films".
The temptation is to lose oneself.
"Many people tell me they thought they were looking for just 15 minutes, but when they came out they discovered they had been there for an hour," said McCall. "The quiet here seems to slow everything down, it is contemplative, I suppose."
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"Five Minutes of Pure Sculpture" is the first major German exhibition of the work of McCall, who has also been commissioned to create a giant column of light visible for 100 km in northwestern England for the Olympic Games.
The exhibition showcases both his vertical and horizontal light films, slowly moving lines in white on black projected into a space filled with a fine haze.
These lines become slowly moving two-dimensional drawings on the wall or floor of lines but become seemingly tangible solid light structures in space.
"They have a cinematic element in that you can see they are moving slightly, changing shape very slowly and in that sense they are like a film," said McCall.
"But they are also sculptural in that they are three-dimensional volumetric forms that you need to walk around and go into and explore in order to understand."
It took dozens of workers four weeks to turn the Hamburger Bahnhof's light-flooded, vaulted main hall into a dark box, blackening out the some 25,000 windows. Visitors hush upon entering the cinema-like space.
"Other people do become part of what you are looking at, so in that way we all become performers," said McCall. "We have a sculptural space, a cinematic space and a social space."
BACK TO ART
McCall was a feted member of the cinematic avant-garde gathered around the London Film-Makers' Co-op in the 1970s and exhibited throughout Europe and the United States, showing twice at the Venice Biennale.
But he says he gave up art in the 1980s to do graphic design instead, because it was so difficult to make a living as an artist back then, when video art was not fully recognized by the gallery world and contemporary art was generally not as popular.
"Back then we mostly looked at each others' work -- it was before you had big audiences," he said.
He also felt limited by the technical means. Before the advent of digital technology, a projectionist had to change reels of 16 mm film to keep the light sculptures present, and the projectors were only designed to show film horizontally.
Moreover there was no haze machine, necessary to making the beams of light appear three dimensional.
"I made these works in warehouses and lofts, and they were shown in spaces like that too, to each other," he said. "Those lofts were full of dust, plus peoples' smoke, and this was the medium that made things visible."
"When I began to show in museums with very clean spaces, no dust and no smoking allowed, you could only see the footprint, not the three-dimensional form."
"There was no way to solve that problem back then," he said, noting he tried things like burning incense, to no avail.
He only started making vertical light sculptures since returning to art in the early 2000s and the exhibition is the first to bring them together with his horizontal work.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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