According to various dictionary definitions, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that acts upon the retina of the eye making sight possible. It is also defined as a form of mental illumination, knowledge of information and enlightenment.
In the exhibition “Presence of Light,” a diverse collection of artists employ light to extend ideas, capture moments in time or create form through light in a compelling and playful exhibition.
The work in this exhibition includes a wide range of media including photography, glass, mixed media and kinetic sculpture, interactive games and installations. At times, the exhibition can feel like a hodge-podge that does not consistently work together, particularly the works of stained glass which felt ironically out of place, but there are many excellent artists included in this exhibition who have utilized light in a fresh and compelling manner.
Sculptor Beth Galston’s installation entitled “Ice Forest” is a mesmerizing cascade of more than 100 resin-cast rose stems. Reminiscent of the techniques of artists such as Cornelia Parker, the suspended installation captures the sunlight from a skylight above, creating a frozen moment of movement and excited repetitious space that changes throughout the day.
Juana Valdes’ installation “In Between” employs light as a metaphor to leverage aspects of her Cuban heritage and associations with the Yoruba faith prevalent in Carribbean cultures. This installation utilizes light and water in an elegant and contemporary interpretation of domestic altar pieces used to honor and assist departed ancestors in attaining greater spiritual clarity in the afterlife. Christian Boltanski’s work easily comes to mind and yet Valdes manages to lift the work up beyond nostalgia and imposed narrative and creates a formal and minimalist work astonishing in its simplicity and power.
Sheila Moss’ installation of cotton swabs dipped in phosphorescent paint entitled “Night Fishers” is a whimsical work enclosed in a darkened gallery that captures the suspension of otherworldly light. Liza McConnell’s “Drawing Projector: Colorado Front Range” uses projected light to reveal a mountain range on the walls of the gallery in a surprising and wonderful manner. Simon Lee’s “Unflooded” is a masterful use of projected light, water and movement that energizes the gallery with animated and colorful imagery generated by continually flooding and unflooding hundreds of small-scale model objects that sit on top of projectors paint a moving field of imagery upon the walls of the museum.
Kathleen Gilrain, curator and executive director of the Smack Mellon Studios in Brooklyn, has done an excellent job in proposing the fundamental idea of light and exhibiting artists who have employed diverse strategies of execution and interpretation. Her effort is housed in a wonderful and often overlooked exhibition space at the Berkshire Museum.