FROM (SLOW) MOTION TO EMOTION : THE COLOR-LIGHT EVENT AND THE EXPERIENCE OF THE INTERVAL
This paper deals with the temporal dimension of the interaction of color and light in contemporary art, and more specifically with the intervallary nature of the color-light event. Based on the authorâs light installations, it examines the question of monochromatic color and of the interaction of colors in painting as compared with the contemporary use of sequences of colored light. It shows how the authorâs installations avoid both unchanging and rapidly changing light in order to focus on interval-enhancing slowness as a factor of the emergence of color. The paper first describes the 1950s and 1960s breakthroughs of color-light as both distinct from and similar to the paintersâ use of pigment. Then it focuses on the questions raised by light works that include temporal evolutions and it insists on the spatial and temporal dimensions of color juxtaposition. Based on this notion of juxtaposition, it then develops the authorâs theory and practice of the interval. It describes how her recent installations focused on duration and slowness so as to expand the experience of the interval, thus provoking sensorial and emotional experiences associated with the intervallary color-light event.
Charlotte Beaufort, Ătude, 2007
Charlotte Beaufort, Untitled 1, 2008
Charlotte Beaufort, Untitled 2, 2008
The site-specific light installations I have created since 2007 are based on a score organized in a series of colored âtableauxâ of light that slowly, silently and almost organically fade into one another to create a developing series of atmospheres. This contrasts with other light installations, such as Ann Veronica Janssensâ Donut (2003), which is based on the quick pulsation of large colored concentric circles projected on a wall with the rhythmic support of loud music. Based as it is on the interaction of successive after-image effects, Donut aims to unsettle our perception of color and space. Such is not the object of my installations which focus on slowness as a decisive element in the advent of color.
But the use of colored light as a medium raises a few questions : how does one work with it ? how can it be contained ? how can it be used without the support of surfaces ? in which ways does it differ from pigments ?
Ann Veronica Janssens, Donut, 2003
From Pigment to Light
Color, form and surface are most generally considered inseparable. Bridget Riley considers they cannot be dissociated (Gage 2009: 103). Michel Verjux uses light in a way that doesnât differ much from white paint on a surface. In his case, color apart, the use of light as a medium is not truly light-specific. Things are different with some of James Turrellâs earlier works that circumscribed colored light in a form. He first used white lightâas in Casto (White), 1967âand then chose to use colored lightâCasto (Pink), 1968. From the right viewpoint, the flat surface painted on the wall is perceived as three-dimensional, like a hologram. This work is more light-specific in the sense that it produces a three-dimensional colored sensation related to no existing material object. It avoids the medium-alienation of transitive lighting, and it explores lightâs ability to inhabit space and to create a self-contained volume. Such questions partly stem from the interrogations of 20th-century painters and critics.
Michel Verjux, Untitled, 2005
James Turrell, Casto, Pink, 1968
Alta, White, 1967 et Juke Blue, 1967
For instance, Clement Greenbergâs notion of the alloverâoften used about Pollockâs drippingsâsuggests that the canvas is cut out of a broader field whose virtual presence beyond the pictureâs physical limits is part of the beholderâs experience. Such preoccupations can be linked with Robert Irwinâs and James Turrellâs interest for light. From 1967 to 1971, they both worked on sensory deprivation with psychologist Edward Wortz, in the Art & Technology Project. Wortz worked on the Ganzfeld, a perfectly homogeneous color-field with no perceptible object or shape, or any visual accident. In this experimental context, one may say that Turrellâs priority in the 1960s was not color, but sensory deprivation and the beholderâs spatial disorientation.
From Â« non-color Â» to colorism
If color is secondary in the Ganzfelds, one may question its importance in most of Turrellâs work. Cherry (1998), for instance, is part of his Space Divisions series in which color plays no part. The first works in the seriesâRayna (1979), Jida (1983)âinvolved no artificial light but the occasional lighting of the exhibition room. For thirty years, well into the 1990s, Turrell was not a colorist. Color, for him, is an inessential supplementâor ornamentâin the more fundamental questioning of our perception of space. In this respect, neither color, nor space, nor light are his media. As he very clearly said, âperception is the mediumâ.
James Turrell, Cherry, 1998
James Turrell, Rayna, 1979 et Jida, 1983
While his worksâ power of attraction does seem to reside in these large monochromatic panes or volumes of light, the choice of color most often is irrelevant. His choice of low intensity, high saturation color for the monochromatic works of his most important series is not determined by what Rothko would have called the colorâs âpoignancyâ (Arasse 2006: 92). It is determined by the colorâs ability to intensify our spatial disorientationâwhat we might call its âpower to unsettleâ. In other words, it is only indirectly that Turrellâs earlier work may be associated with the âpoignancyâ of color.
However, it seems Turrellâs work for Pascal Dusapinâs opera, To Be Sung, in 1993-1994, was a turning point. There, Turrell may be described as a coloristâin Roger de Pilesâs senseâarranging and tuning colors. For color cannot be experienced in monochromesâneither of paint nor of light. It is the result of an arrangement or juxtaposition of colors, either in space or in time, which plays on saturation and intensity, and creates effects of contrast and gradation.
Pacal Dusapin/James Turrell, To Be Sung, (OpĂ©ra de chambre), 1994
From fixed color to colored light variation
When an artist arranges colors, in paintings or installations, there is an illusion of movement involved. With the same double-entendre as the movere of ancient rhetoric, the art of the colorist moves us. The question is how the physical, optical or mental motion triggers emotion. Roger de Piles had understood that such was the power of the colorist.
In the case of painting, the arrangement of colors determines the conditions of our gazeâs mobility. Although they evolve in time, my installations are based on similar aspects of the interaction of colors in visual perception. The difference however is that my installations change in time. Like a piece of music, the modulations of colored light explore the dimensions of time and change. As they evolve form one luminous and colored state to another, the exploration of space and duration focuses on the phenomenon of spacing. The very fact that they are moving installations is related to questions of duration, transition, and intervals. In other words, they constantly rasie the question of how successive states (of color) are joined.
Indeed, temporality is at the heart of my practice and technique. It is also related to color. It is the stretching of durationâor slownessâthat led me to my interest in the advent of color. And indeed, to work on the advent of color means to work on duration, for the artistic manipulation of color must take into account the subjective dimension of the color sensation, the fact that color always fools us, as Albers suggested (Albers 1963: 11). Color is phenomenological. It exists as color only because of our eyeâs capacities of mobility and adaptation.
However, Lois Swirnoffâs experienceâsomewhat like Turrellâs Dark Spaces seriesâshows that the experience of color is not exclusively optical. Thus, extreme slowness allows to explore the eye-brain relationship, the relations between visual perception, cognition and emotion. My artistic research focuses neither on stability nor on quick changes like Donut, it does not put the eye under intense and instant pressure. I wish to stretch every state, in order to explore the plasticity of duration (and of color).
The experience of the interval as the advent of color
To conclude, I will insist on the notion of interval. Mark Rothko regretted that the public was more attracted to his lighter pictures because the darker ones called for more concentration and visual effort. In my untitled installations 1 and 2 (2008), the extreme slowness of change, on the verge of imperceptibility, called for a similar type of concentration on color and timeâmuch as when one listens to a solo cello piece. But it is with this focused attention, heightened by expectation and want, that color best appeared.
As we have seen, Turrellâs monochromatic works do not focus the beholderâs attention on the advent of color but on its attractiveness. On the contrary, in Etude and Untitled 1 & 2, the only light-events that make a difference are perceived only as color-events without the distraction of accidental and spectacular speed. In Untitled 1, change was slower than our natural physical motion and compelled the beholder to reduce the speed of his everyday perceptual agitation. By creating want, this could challenge his patience. But the everyday pace could also subside and allow the emergence of a durable experience of emerging color sensations.
Under such conditions, color does not occur in such or such predetermined luminous state or stage in the score, but in the movement from one of these stages to anotherâand this includes the beholderâs own movements. It occurs in the intervals between the states, each state in its turn becoming a new interval in the continuous fluxâand perceptible as the advent of such color only because it becomes an interval. The same state, when presented as such, is not an interval : it cannot be a color-event.
By questioning the modes of spacing with slow color and light variations, I try to act on the spacing of the gaze. What I try to effect with these installationsâ slowness amounts to doing in time what painters have perceived in space or on the picture plane. Thus, Matisse very precisely evoked what I have here described as the advent of color as interval, when he said about the Vence Chapel :
âOne may not add any red in this chapelâŠ And yet this red exists, it exists in the contrast of the colors that are there. It exists through the reaction in the beholderâs mindâ (MĂšredieu 1997: 65).
As Florence de MĂšredieu has so aptly added, this is quite like music. âThe interval, the void, the relation and the harmonyâ (MĂšredieu 1997: 65) are all. This is exactly the reason why I believe that a research on colorâartistic or notânecessarily is a research on composition. It consists in working on juxtapositons. Whether one works with successive layers of color, as in a glacis, or with a temporal succession of states, juxtaposition exists in movement. As far as I am concernedâbut is it different with painters ?âit consists in creating intervals in a light score.
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