The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is known for works that can be bold, enigmatic, slightly baffling, shocking in their simplicity or mind-boggling in complexity. The new exhibition Light Show is refreshingly pure and direct in concept. It is filled with installations that use lights, mirrors, heat and other custom electronics to create contemporary art that is abstract but also beautiful and absorbing.
When entering the exhibition, you are warned that, unlike the rest of the MCA, devices are completely off limits, because the light of screens and flashes would be immensely disruptive to the experience of the finely-tuned displays on display in the exhibition.
Indeed, there is something extremely comforting about the stillness of the exhibition. For the most part it is bathed in darkness except when an installation lights the way. A row of hanging fluorescent tubes transform an empty hallway into a grand stairwell and a bare white room takes on qualities that are both celebratory and tropical bathed in the coloured lights of artist Carlos Cruz-Diaz’s Chromosaturation.
The works on display in Light Show are extremely abstract in nature, but create an immediate connection because of the way they transform the space around you, thrusting you in the very centre of the work itself. Step into a box made of mirrors which makes you feel as if you are suspended in gaping space or another room that feels as if it is rotating and shifting around you using only moving shadows.
There is also clear rhetoric and narrative at play in these works. David Batchelor’s Magic Hour takes the iconic image of a neon sign and flips it around, signifying the sign with a misty glow surrounding a jumble of wires and cables. Other works use endless patterns of tiny LEDs to breathtaking effect, particularly Jim Campbell’s Exploded View (Commuters) which from certain angles shows ghostly silhouettes walking to and fro.
Light Show is an exhibition that, once witnessed, will not be easily forgotten. The experience is not of simply observing and taking in the artwork from a third person perspective, but as your shadow follows you, slipping over walls and other surfaces, and as you feel the heat from the lights and see yourself reflected in the many mirrors, you become a part of the artworks themselves. At points, it’s so much like entering another world, that it’s difficult to drag yourself away.
Light Show is running now until 5 July. Entry is $20 for a standard adult ticket, but concession, youth and family passes are available. Children under 12 are admitted for free. The Museum of Contemporary Art is open 10am to 5pm every day except Thursday, when it stays open until 9pm. During Vivid Sydney (22 May to 8 June) Light Show will be open late every night.
Article image is Anthony McCall's You and I, Horizontal, 2005, © the artist 2015. Installation view, Institut d'Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne 2006. Photo: Blaise Adilon.