How Five European Light Artists Are Illuminating a New York Gallery

Lemercier, whose works can be found frequently at light festivals—week- or weekend-long events that fill cities from Berlin to Chiang Mai with artists’ light projections and installations—has worked with the gallery for some four years, developing ways to translate his large-scale video-mapping light projections into works that are lasting and can be appreciated in a gallery space, or at home. Inspired by his own achievements in realizing this endeavor, the artist called upon his friends, prominent fellow light artists, asking them to rein their works into the limits of the gallery space. The result is “Bright Matter,” the Lower East Side gallery’s current group show (which traveled to Miami in December) curated by Lemercier, which includes the works of five light artists and collectives who present shared investigations into perception, movement, geometric shapes, and monochrome colors, in addition to light. 

The show’s first work greets passersby on the street: a puzzle-like composition of triangles, squares, and hexagonal shapes fills the front window, methodically changing as triangles flip on hinges, one at a time. This is the work of LAb[au], a Brussels-based group of artists who joined forces in 1997 to investigate technology’s place in art. Works such as this one, 0rigam1-Hexa RGB freeform (2014), are driven by a computerized mechanism and a network of memory springs that cause the pieces to move in a random, unpredictable pattern.

As you pass inside the gallery, to the left is a wall featuring mesmerizing lenticular prints by Francois Wunschel. The works, a new medium for the artist, take a cube (the artist’s trademark motif, seen best in his large scaffold light projection works) as their basis, and spins them on X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. Wunschel has manipulated his media in such a way to inject the 2D prints with animation, but only through the eyes of a viewer in motion, encouraging engagement beyond looking and beckoning the audience to fully experience the works through movement. Similarly engaging are the works on the opposite wall by artist duo Nonotak—intricate plexiglass and tape geometries that distill their well-known immersive environments into two-dimensional squares.

Nearby is the work of Numen / For Use, the three-person collective that began in 1998, whose works span conceptual art, design, and scenography. While they are known for their expansive tape installations—one of which is now on view at Palais de Tokyo—they’ve also gained acclaim for their “N-Light” series, with works like N-Light Objects, Trapezium (2008), a mirrored glass box with tubes of fluorescent light inside, creating an infinite optical effect; a geometric, networked tunnel appears within the work, beckoning viewers to gaze into its depths. 

Works by Lemercier can be found through the gallery including Landform_10 (2014), which employs a projector, casting light onto a giclée print made from dots—a pointillist rendering of a rugged, mountainous landscape. His luminous works begin with printed patterns that are computer-generated through algorithms, resembling landscapes and lunar surfaces, and often incorporate geometric patterns and images taken from space; it’s hard to tell in these works where printed images begin and light projections end. Recent works like Tesselation (2014), which is mounted on the wall like a flatscreen television, employ Lemercier’s new invention, retro projection, where light emanates from behind the print, through a mechanism housed in a shallow box behind a screen. While translating their works into small-scale or two-dimensional forms, Lemercier and his fellow light artists are challenged to repackage their practices, while maintaining their signature aesthetics and the awe-inspiring qualities that their larger light works possess. While simplifying, shrinking, and recreating their trademark tendencies, they succeed in engaging the viewer—provoking thought, action, and optical illusion—and ultimately recognizing that theirs is the perception that matters.

Casey Lesser is an Editor at Artsy.

Bright Matter” is on view at Muriel Guépin Gallery, New York, Nov. 21, 2014–Jan. 11, 2015.

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