“Art is a playpen, there aren’t any rules.” - Robert Irwin
During the 1960s and 1970s, there was the emergence of artists on the west coast of the USA who began experimenting with new materials such as plastic, glass and LED light. These artists pushed the boundaries of traditional art-making by exploring how light installations could affect the viewer’s perception of space. It quickly became known as the Light Art movement, and it’s been said that the artists drew inspiration from the radiant, sunny climate of California. Some of the pioneers of the Light Art movement include Robert Irwin, Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, and Dan Flavin. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic object, the light artists were intervening in the spaces and directing the viewer to stop and notice any changes - essentially to see the world in a new dimension.
Some of these emerging artists let go of their painting roots and left abstract expressionism in search of something new. These artists were experimenting with materials that were previously reserved for aerospace such as chemicals, paint, and resin, and expanded on it. They began experimenting with new ways to engage their audience, specifically through the use of light - both natural and artificial. The new technology of fluorescent and LED light as a medium in contemporary art quickly gained popularity, and these artists began experimenting with different colors, shapes, and the sites they installed their work.
Robert Irwin created site-specific art that responded to its surrounding, immersing the viewer within the exhibition space. Irwin in particular was interested in “how art structures the way we see the world”. He wanted to structure a sense of discovery once the viewer entered the room and became aware of his play of light. “It’s not really about light and space, it’s about being a perceiving being.”
Helen Pashgian’s Light Invisible (2014) focuses on the relation of the human body with the installation. The dark space is juxtaposed with the luminous installation of the columns, and according to the artist it is a “competition between the eye and the brain”.
Larry Bell also dropped painting and dived straight into experimenting with unconventional art-making materials like glass to create sculptures. By incorporating both natural and artificial sources of light into his sculptures, it offers a new way to experience his work because the light is always reflecting or shifting. “I want my sculptures to work in peripheral vision, ambient light changing, the art is always doing something different.”
New Technology & Public Art
Italian artist Gio Tirotto’s latest project, 208, titled after the current number of nations in the world, includes 208 buoys under Rimini’s Tiberius bridge (Ponte di Tiberio). Tirotto designed the buoys to be anchored to the sea bed allowing them to float gently on the water’s surface. The buoys are equally spread out to create a harmonious, enlightening atmosphere to reinforce his message of unity. When the daylight fades, the artificial light on the buoys illuminates from the solar energy conserved. The public installation was realized in collaboration with Rimini Creativity and Design month and is on view until the end of January 2021.
Milan based artist Massimo Uberti creates unique light installations, simplifying the design of objects or creating rooms. His recent works include house structures, from the floor to the ceiling - even making desks.
Nathaniel Rackowe also experiments with light to create large-scale, light sculptures that have a unique geometric shape, and are often installed in outdoor spaces.
The ethereal experience of light is almost indescribable. Like a moth to a flame, there’s something so mysterious about our attraction to light. Light artists wanted the viewer to encounter the world from a different perspective by using reflective materials to create an environmental effect. Light transitions and dissolves; the way we relate to it and process it offers time for contemplation, ideas, and new ways of thinking.