Eliasson’s Lights at the MCA

We visited the MCA again yesterday, this time to see the Olafur Eliasson exhibition. The most interesting things there – apart from the room where we were invited to build things in white Lego and to admire the extraordinary creations of those who had come before us –were his pieces made with light. I was probably a bit spoiled for them by having seen James Turrell’s work in Naoshima, where the thoughtfully reverential treatment allows the work to become almost numinous. In the MCA, for example, the 360º Room for All Colours, in which a circular wall becomes something like a domestic-sized Aurora Borealis (Eliasson is from Iceland) might have had that effect, but the chatter from the Lego room, the attendant’s helpful explanation of technical matters, and the intrusive detail of the floor and the room beyond the ‘room’ (unlike the polished blankness of the floor in the photo on the MCA site) allowed in too much mundanity, and the room felt to me like a clever novelty. ‘Take your time’ was the title of the exhibition, but there was little in the presentation to enforce that injunction.

Except in the piece entitled ‘Beauty’. In a black-lined room a fine spray of water fell from the ceiling, in light from a single directed bulb. In a very slight breeze, perhaps caused by our movements, the water fell in gentle arcs, catching and refracting the light like a shimmering, almost mother-of-pearl curtain. As I was standing in the dark at the back of the room, three women walked in. Something about their manner emboldened me, and I said, ‘Walk into it.’ And they did. It looked great – the curtain completely vanished for a moment, then reformed. Then I discovered for myself that when you walked into the mist, a circular rainbow formed around you.

There were other lovely things in the exhibition, but I wanted to make sure I told you about that.

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