Light Show

Last weekend I found myself with a, surprisingly rare, free Sunday morning and took the opportunity to head down to the Hayward Gallery on South Bank for the Light Show exhibition.

Naturally as a lighting designer I had a particularly keen interest in the subject matter, but I can’t recommend the exhibition enough to everyone.  Designer, or otherwise, the exhibition is a collection of fantastic examples of art, technology and lighting, spanning from works in the 1960s through to present day.

The exhibition is a wonderful assault on the senses, demonstrating how strong and powerful the sense of vision is.  From the mesmerising Cylinder II as you walk in, to the astounding effects of Chromosaturation and the slightly unnerving Reality Show, here are some of my favourite pieces from the exhibition.

Cylinder II, Leo Villareal
Cylinder II is the first piece that you come across in the exhibition, and it sets the tone for the high quality of artefacts in the room.  Over 19,000 LEDs in a piercing cool white CCT are stacked in highly polished mirror finish housings to form endlessly changing patterns.

Light Show Leo Villareal

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.

Evocative of “meteor showers, falling snow, clouds of fireflies and other natural phenomena” the software used to program and control it is set on the ‘ultimate shuffle scheme’, where the pattern and effects never repeat.  With varying brightness, speed and direction, the whole sculpture captured my gaze into a trance-like manner, mesmerised with the patterns of oscillation.

Exploded View (Commuters), Jim Campbell
Combining some clever technology, Exploded View (Commuters) becomes immersed into the gallery space, subtly interacting with the audience as more people pass by.  Linked to a sensor as you approach the sculpture down a small stair, the rippling effects of LEDs blinking on and off is directly related to the passers-by.

Light Show Jim Campbell

Light Show Jim Campbell 2
From almost every viewpoint as you walk 360 degrees around the 1,000 suspended LED point sources, the blinking appears as a random array, but, from from a certain distance and at a particular angle, a discernible image emerges as a shadowy figure.  You notice it in a second as you move around, and then in the following second it is gone.  As more people pass through your viewpoint is lost to the flickering patterns that follow.

Wedgework V, James Turrell
I won’t spoil the surprise on this one, but approaching the exhibit by feeling you way along a pitch black corridor the softly glowing colours are not all they seem.

Light Show James Turrell
By spending up to 15 minutes in the room your eyes adjust to the light levels, gradually seeing more than when you first entered.

Slow Arc Inside A Cube IV, Conrad Shawcross
Enclosed in its own space behind a curtain, the slow arc is a show of a deceptively powerful shadow effect.

Light Show Conrad Shawcross
Inspired by the “immensely complicated process of mapping the molecular structure of insulin” the slowly rotating arm spins a light source through varying angles of orientation, swirling the grid-like shadows across all surfaces in the room.  Walking across the room is a bewildering experience, your brain, confused by the “moving surfaces”, struggles to coordinate with walking in a straight line and I found myself following others out the room by carefully sliding my palms along the flat wall for reassurance!

Chromosaturation, Carlos Cruz-Diez
Chromosaturation was my absolute personal favourite of the exhibition.  A real highlight demonstrating colour and human perception more simply and powerfully than words ever could.  Must be experienced in person to be fully appreciated!

Light Show Carlos Cruz-Diez 2

Colour becomes a situation happening in space

Light Show Carlos Cruz-Diez
Donning shoe covers you step into the first of three pristine white connected rooms, each flooded in a single colour – one red, one green, one blue.

Immersing yourself in the monochromacity your eyes view skin tones and clothing colours completely differently (skin looking particularly awful under green!).  Since your retina is used to perceiving a wide range of colours simultaneously these “monochromatic situations cause disturbances”.

The initially intense colour eventually “fades” to a pale, verging on white, imitation until you move along into the next room.  The green now comes across more vibrant than ever, and a glance back shows the “pale” red as a rich and intense pink, with the once blue room further along seemingly transformed to the most vibrant purple.

There are many more on show at the exhibition, and even those I’ve just mentioned take on far more impact and effect when experienced in person.  A true visual treat.

The exhibition runs until May 6th and if you do get a chance to visit I really recommend it.  It’s fantastic.

Images from


4 Responses to “Light Show”

  1. 1 Nutmeg April 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm


  2. 2 Hilary Ritchie April 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Unfortunately I am currently working out of our French office and will not be able to attend in person. A well written and illustrated article.

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