Laboratory of Light and Space

  • Dalwood, Alison (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details


To bring together a series of interrelated artworks, which explore light and space and where ephemeral phenomena is the focus and the viewer is invited to participate fully, not only in the act of perceiving but also by generating their own momentary “pictures”. The plan is for a tightly curated and highly selective presentation, which draws the audience into a debate about how we engage with, perceive and represent our experience of light and space and our relationship to the picture plane. The installation would consist of photographs, small hand-held convex mirrors and paintings suspended back-to back with an emphasis on minimal materials, which brings into play the viewer’s imagination. All these works form part of a research project I have been working on since 2009 and would be brought together in one place for the first time.

The concept of the Laboratory of Light and Space is that the exhibition itself becomes a live, dynamic process. Artworks become the means rather than the object of the viewer’s attention and the picture-plane a liminal space where invisible and visible, audience and artist meet. A trace of reality is caught on the surfaces of the two-dimensional art works, which are distorted by the slightest movement of light, de-stabilizing the represented motifs, which appear to slip in and out of the surface. The pictures vary with the coming and going of spectators as images enter and leave the work’s field of vision. In the Laboratory of Light and Space, one section is called Claude Glass, which gives a historical perspective to contemporary artists using mirrors.

Event proposal, including additional strategies for working with and engaging the public

Using the project space at the opening event and on selected days while the exhibition is open, I would like to engage visitors and students with the process of making pictures themselves with mirror-like devices and recording these with a digital camera, phone camera or Polaroid camera, which I would provide. These results would then form a growing exhibition in the gallery alongside my own experiments. The idea draws a comparison between the “discovery” of landscape in the 18th Century and our contemporary relationship with images of scenery, sometimes digitally filtered, which we distribute though online platforms. The mirrors, some hand-held and some fixed on movable brackets directly to posts, could be re-positioned by the visitor in such a way that the refraction of light captures an ephemeral image which visitors could photograph and upload and share on a Claude Glass website.

Through a series of deliberate interventions – for example the surface quality and size of the ‘mirror’, how it is positioned and the use of a single colour-field, radical changes of the ‘view’ can be ‘captured’ at the same location according to the light, weather, season and time of day. It would be an opportunity to design and test different types of mirroring devices suitable for public use which would in turn develop my experience with interactive public art projects.

The project revisits the 18th Century Claude glass, which was commonly used by the first landscape tourists in search on the picturesque. The Claude glass or Claude mirror was a hand-held, pocket sized device used by artists and travellers to transpose reality and simplify the landscape view for observation and outdoor sketching. The traveller turns their back on the scenery or object of interest and holds and adjusts the small glass grey-tinted mirror at about shoulder height to view the reflected scene. Filtered in the convex picture plane of the Claude glass, the image the camera picks up is something much more than a collection of different viewpoints and I would like to encourage visitors to explore these phenomena for themselves in a practical way, perhaps with the screens of their mobile phones. Although in use before the invention of photography, there are connections between digital photographic filters, contemporary Polaroid culture of Instagram and the historical Claude glass.

Key findings

Laboratory of Light and Space: EXHIBITS (images in attached PDF)

1. Bode Museum: photograph under acrylic glass, 150 x 200 cm standing on concrete blocks.

2. Matter and Antimatter, 2015: black powder pigment and small glass half-domes exhibited in Perspex or glass museum case (60cm high x 40cm wide).

4. Tiles, 2013, Lambda photograph, acrylic glass, 190 x 97cm standing on two concrete blocks and leaning against the wall.

5. Hallway, 2011, oil on print & acrylic glass, 42 x 30cm: series of 5 oil on photographic prints under glass or Perspex on floor and propped against wall.

3. Curtain, 2015: two paintings (oil on canvas 167 x 137 cm / 66 x 54) suspended back to back from the ceiling beam in the gallery.

6. Interiors and Museum, 2015-2016: series of small paintings and collages, oil on paper, framed and unframed, some painted over printed photographs. A4 approx. Number depending on available space.

7. Interactive Claude Glass: 2016 contemporary versions of the Claude glass designed and produced by the artist for use by exhibition visitors: pivoting, glass semi-domes on post (10cm x 80cm), hand-held (10cm x 10cm) and printed acetate mounted on grey plastic clip-board (A4). Presented on a table.

8. Claude Glass: information about 18th Century original optical instrument used by artists to reflect landscape views. Preferably presented in a glass museum case together with copies of drawings made by 18th century artists.
Thomas Gainsborough: Artist with Claude Glass, 1750

9. Miniature Landscapes and interesting objects
A collection of interesting things to photograph, much in the way that Gainsborough had a tray of natural objects in his studio to paint from.

Short titleLaboratory of Light and Space
Effective start/end date4/02/164/02/17


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