Saturday, August 04, 2007

BLIND LIGHT by Anthony Gormley. Part 1.

In Chester Zoo a jaguar is kept in a large compound with a glass front. The keepers have tried as much as they can to convert the space into a synthetic jungle to make it feel at home: broad leaved plants are backed with palm trees, vines dangle in some breeze caused by a heating system - and, at ground level, there is lots of steam. So much steam in fact it is difficult to see clearly more than a few inches into the enclosure. But stand there long enough and the jaguar will appear without warning. He is suddenly there - his yellow eyes looking into yours. The shock is breathtaking. For a few seconds you look at each other and then, with an impatient and superior flick of his tail, he is gone. In some small way you feel like a jungle explorer coming across something wondrous.

Anthony Gormley has used the same effect in his installation BLIND LIGHT. As at the post office it seems to be obligatory to queue. In fact queuing seems to me to be part of the experience. As you gradually shuffle around the outside of the brightly lit steam filled glass box people appear inside as suddenly as the jaguar. Hands reach out and quiveringly touch the side. Behind the hand the rest of the body quickly disappears into the swirling whiteness: shadow then vague outline then nothing at all. Fingers touch then slide then trace around the wall. Sometimes whole bodies come to join them faces peering out just as much as you are peering in. Eyes stare and then focus. Pressed-together lips suddenly smile with recognition.

There is a notice at the entrance warning off asthmatics and people of an anxious disposition - but I took no notice. There were also camera men and someone holding a microphone to record the reactions of the voices inside.

It is warm but not hot. The steam comes at you quickly grabbing away a little of your breath. It condenses on your glasses in small droplets but this doesn't matter because after two steps inside you realise, with a slight amount of panic, that you are temporarily blind. A white opalescence surrounds you. All sense of direction is lost in the ubiquitous glow. Nothing has depth. People appear and disappear rapidly like ghosts. Voices come and go. You reach out - at least I reached out - inexplicably anxious. I had an overwhelming need to escape - now. But had no idea which way to go. It was not even obvious which was was backwards. Even though I knew I was with about 25 other people I felt alone - and for a moment wished I had someone with me to cling to so we could be lost together. I forced myself to breathe slowly and deeply.

When my hand touched the glass I felt relief and gratitude. I was not lost at all. Ridiculous, I told myself - the box was only about 15 feet (at most) in each direction - what could possibly happen? All I had to do was to keep the wall to the side of me, keep touching it with my fingertips and I would find my way out. I relaxed then and began to enjoy myself. Steam condensed and made tiny pools in my nostrils. My glasses misted more and the droplets merged and dripped onto my skin. People ambled around carelessly knocking into each other - talking and laughing - without the security of the wall, coming on top of friends suddenly and then disappearing again. Sometimes I went closer to the wall and looked out at the people looking in. I was on the other side now. I knew what it was like. Superior. I have done this. I am one step ahead. I could tell them what it was like to be in here. I could smile with my greater knowledge. The jaguar in his pen.

I came upon the exit suddenly. A woman smiled and indicated a space to the left of her. I turned and there was the darkness of the rest of the world. I found myself grinning widely. Then ducking past the camera man I stood near the wall to make notes.

A young man in a red checked shirt stood next to me. I'd noticed him before - the last of the trio that were making the film, occasionally taking a few hurried steps to keep up. We exchanged a few words. He asked me what I thought of the exhibition and I asked him why they were making the film. It was for the artist, he said, in case there was a documentary then this would be the footage. I kept bumping into him again and again and later found out who he was from one of the curators - the artist's son. I am not sure if this is the result of the filming - I suspect not - but there is a very short video here.
Link

5 Comments:

Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Sounds a fascinating, mysterious experience. Well described; almost as good as being there.

Mon Aug 06, 10:08:00 am  
Blogger Susangalique said...

that video is far out!

Mon Aug 06, 08:18:00 pm  
Blogger Gordon McCabe said...

Glad you enjoyed it Clare.

The other room you have to queue for, the one with the endoscopes, is a little less impressive I would say.

Mon Aug 06, 11:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks CB - and yes, Susangalique although very brief that video gives a good impression...

and yes Gordon I queued for that room for a long, long time went in there and thought why? Easy to poke yourself in the eye too, I would say.

Tue Aug 07, 09:07:00 am  
Blogger Gordon McCabe said...

And not in a nice way, either.

Tue Aug 07, 10:42:00 pm  

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