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What difference can light make to perception?

It is a question visitors might explore at a modern art exhibition just opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

That is where ‘Gallery 7’ frequently becomes home to work from outside the UK that is rarely seen on public display.  This time British artist Fiona Banner has selected 27 pieces from the V-A-C Foundation – a private Russian art collection, for a temporary display that opened on 9 December.

Fiona Banner Selects from the V-A-C Collection presents a mixture of the abstract, photographic and impressionist, and of sculpture and film.  Work includes that by James Welling, Sigmar Polke, Claude Monet and Andy Warhol.

The twist in the exhibition experience is the use of dynamic coloured gallery lighting in displaying the work.

Walk in through the Gallery 7 doors and you may meet the art during a ‘magenta’ moment, or a ‘yellow’ moment. Choose to enter as the lights dim to apparent darkness and you may temporarily lose your interpretive bearings before getting visually in step.

Normally, regular gallery lighting would be used to display these works.  For this exhibition – once the viewer accepts the illuminative rhythm – the lighting effects begin to affect what is seen, the mood and maybe the interpretation.

It needs a patient temperament to view in time with the gradual and seamless lighting shifts and allow the ambient colour scheme to present, and seem to re-present, what is there.  A few sequences are simply not enough.  You might want to wait and wait to see what emerges, then wait again to see if it re-emerges.

Christopher Williams’ Valentine Typewriter (1969) seems to transition from a vibrant red to perceptibly black and white, and back again.  Claude Monet’s The Church at Vétheuil (1878) appears to vacillate from a scene set in a cool winter, to a fresh spring, to an evening sun.

Fiona Banner has described the exhibition as “a play on the act of looking, on our perception.”

The display takes what is physically static and makes it visually and imaginatively dynamic. The lasting effect is something with heightened dimensions and multifarious mood.

The exhibition runs until 8 March 2015 and entry is free.

© Laura Claire H 2014

See: Whitechapel Gallery