Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Simplicity with Light Sabres

Somewhere between an American icecream parlor and an exercise in changing colour through context... I've been to see Dan Flavin at the Hayward.

Yet there was one piece of work I really admired - it brought the rest into perspective for me and made it more than art history or "than just a load of flourescent tubes" as my companion put it. It was dedicated to William of Ockham (he of Ockham's Razor, who preached that the simplest idea is the best explanation) and it was three groupings of plain white tubes. The wall showing them was about 12ft across, white, and the gallery wound you round in such a way that you faced it head on as you left the last work.

The first grouping, to the left of the wall, is actually a single tube, ceiling to floor.

The second is two tubes lined up in the middle of the wall, ceiling to floor.

The third group consists of three tubes parallel, just like the first two only with one added, and to the right as far as they can go.

Though if you were to parse it right to left, the number of tubes decreases by one each time. That was also a possibility.

1, 2, 3 or 3, 2, 1. Either way, it was beautiful. It was rendered in what we had learnt to recognise as 'white' rather than 'daylight' white fluorescence, having seen a lot of different tubes on the way round. And it was a very fine thing.

We speculated on whether we would go home and try to create this in our respective living rooms but it seemed too difficult to commit to such simplicity.

And then we went off in all directions. I got very excited about the counting: the possibilities that our numbers carry in them to be calculated with (I mean, what a fantastic technology - where would capitalism be now without such good tools for arithmetic?). And we talked about the invention of zero, and magic squares and how neither of us like Sudoku.

And that really proved the point: both the value of the simple straight white lines and the impossibility of avoiding tangents.

Interestingly, the piece that first brought Dan Flavin fame went off at an angle. It's called "the diagonal of May 25 1963, (to Constantin Brancusi), 1963". It was a yellow tube at 45 degrees.

The Hayward quotes him describing his practice ‘as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find’. So, a man who knew his worth then.

The gallery had commissioned a soundtrack for certain works, but thankfully not for that, as we found them universally silly and distracting (the gallery getting it wrong). Or maybe it was the hilarity of sharing an IPod to listen to them, which had two sensible grown women giggling like... like you are not supposed to in art galleries.

More impressive was the feature where they explain the science of electric light and fluorescence too (the gallery getting it right), which we played in nicely at the end.

Then there was the classic finish to every visit to every gallery I've ever made: no postcards of the best work. Some consolation that it wouldn't have looked much anyway: white on white at 4" by 6". No aide memoire. So, I guess it is the living room option then...

Apparently Habitat sells fluorescent tubes designed to lean against walls and we never knew why. Let's just be grateful we've finally caught up with that 60s chic thing.


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