Lost in Illusions

Once in a long while, there is an art exhibition that really makes me smile…  Julio Le Parc at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery did exactly just that!

Julio Le Parc Continuel Mobile (Continuous Mobile)

Entering the pitch black gallery space to be greeted by a giant wall full of hanging square pieces of mirrors could be rather disorienting.  “What is this art work about?  What am I suppose to do?  Am I just suppose to look at them or can I touch?  Hmm.. may be not.. usually can’t touch artwork in galleries… ”  Those were exactly my first thought when I entered the gallery space.  Then I noticed the beautifully mesmerising confetti-like shadows on the floor that lightly danced around as a result of the slight movements of the air blowing on the steel… I was intrigued…  Upon closer examination of the art piece “Continuel Mobile”, something even more curious unfolded…  Flanked by either side of the mobile installation were full height mirror walls that continued to reflect the square pieces of hanging steels infinitely and distorting them at the same time…  Hence a continuum of warped mobile walls on both sides of my visual sphere with infinite confetti-like floors..  The ceiling, walls, floor and anyone standing in its way, all converging into a single point in the horizon…  An ingenious optical illusion by the master of optical art indeed!

Is this real life or is this reflection?  Is this a selfie or is this a photograph by someone else?

Walking around, everywhere was pitched black with various light installations and projections… in lots of booth-like areas, I started to feel like being inside one of those gaming arcades of the nineties!!  Were these artwork, in fact, a series of games that we were suppose to play? The way they were presented certainly seemed to invite interactions, which was the opposite of the norm of art exhibitions where visitors were not allowed to touch the work on display, and in most cases, no photography was allowed neither!  Not that I was new to how to behave in art exhibitions, but this particular one, I just developed self-doubt…  Or perhaps, this was what Julio Le Parc meant by “Deconditioning”.

One of the themes that Julio Le Parc often talked about was a notion of “Deconditioning”.  He wanted to decondition us within an exhibition space, to have us behaved in a different way, wanting us to have a certain attitude towards his artwork…  An intention which was inspired by his personal experience when he moved to Paris where museums instructed visitors to stand in certain areas, to not touch the artwork, to not make a sound etc.  He was revolted by the strict rules from the establishment and wanted to create an art space that encouraged visitors to interact with the art and be part of the artwork instead…  So, according to the friendly and informative gallery assistant, I could touch and play with everything then!!  Yeay!

Playing with “Sol Instable avec Lumiere Pulsante”.  Photographer: Orestes Chochoulas – We Own Cameras
Playing with “Sol Instable avec Lumiere Pulsante”.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras
Distorted Me and Continuel Mobile in 4 Doubles Miroirs.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras.
Distorted Red Dots in 4 Doubles Miroirs.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras.
Distorted Me and Continuel Mobile in 4 Doubles Miroirs.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras.
Glasses for Another Vision from Douze Lunettes Pour Une Vision Autre.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras.

From my observation, there seemed to be three methods in which Julio Le Parc manipulated light and movements…  The first was IMMERSIVE LIGHTS or Movements from kinetic light source whereby lights and shadows and visitors were all part of his artwork…

Me as part of Immersive Lights in Lumiere en Mouvement.

The second type of light manipulation was REFLECTED LIGHTS or Movements from static light source

Lying down on a bench watching slivers of light dancing across the ceiling was a rather mesmerising and deeply meditating experience.  I actually did not want to get up.  The intriguing light movements were created purely by the reflections from the interactions between air movements to the pieces of polished steel mobiles in the ceiling, hence the name “Continuel Lumiere au Plafond” or “Continuous Light on the Ceiling”

To the left, was another example of reflected light called “Continuel Mobile Lumiere” which was a similar installation to the first mobile wall that greet me at the entrance but instead of the mirrored walls on either side, it was lit by panel of light, create yet, more dancing confetti shadows which seemed to float midair…

Floating Reflections from “Continuel Mobile Lumiere”.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras

To my right, Julio Le Parc created an illusion of light waves by manipulating reflected lights from kinetic stainless steel sheets called “Continuel Lumiere avec Formes en Contorsions”.  Unlike his other reflected light installations, this one was created by the use of a motorised device.

From there, I was faced with a maze of hanging mirror sheets that we had to walk through to reach the other side of the gallery space… which I got slightly lost because I kept walking into brick walls or mirrored walls instead of the way out!!

Lost inside Reconstruction d’une Cellule de labyrinthe.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras
Infinite Reflections inside Reconstruction d’une Cellule de Labyrinthe.  Photographer: Orestes Chouchoulas – We Own Cameras

At the opposite end of the labyrinth, I was faced with the third type of light manipulation, the PROJECTED LIGHTS

Julio Le Parc “Lumiere Verticale Visualisee”

The diffused light on vertically hung soft translucent fabric panels was a fresh contrast to Le Parc’s use of hard materials of the labyrinth to reflect light.  Here, he marked a white line on the floor demarcating the distance from which he wanted the visitors to experience “lumiere Verticale Visualisee”, which was the reverse of everywhere else in the exhibition.  this one, he did not want us to touch nor enter.  Although the artist was not physically here, we actually could feel his presence through the small clues left within the work.  It was as if he wanted to challenge us in every step of the way in this exhibition, asking us to question “What is my relationship to the work?” not just to come into a gallery and look at art as if we knew exactly what to expect.  He wanted to surprise us.

Extension of Space in Julio Le Parc “Continuel Lumiere”

By the end of the afternoon, I was glad that I took the time to visit this exhibition because manipulation of lights, shadows and reflections by Julio Le Parc were just so powerful.  He had certainly succeeded in challenging his visitors to rethink their attitude to the social norm and how we perceive space.  I had always been intrigued by infinite reflections and often use mirrored walls in my design work to extend the size of a confined space.  To be able to experience how far an artist could manipulate our perception of space through the use of mirrors, manipulation of lights and shadows was not only inspirational, but also educational and lots of fun all at the same time!  I could honestly say that it was an afternoon well spent…  I came out of the exhibition feeling like a happy child after a visit to the fairground!

Julio Le Parc at Serpentine Sackler Gallery from 25th November 2014 to 15th February 2015.  For more information, visit http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/julio-le-parc


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