Solid Light

Above: Anthony McCall, Solid Light, installation view, 
Pioneer Works, New York, 2018

“It was very, very peaceful and calming. It was very, very like almost otherworldly in the experience. This isn’t the modern world we live in today. It could be somewhere in a far-off land, in a galaxy far, far away. Somewhere just not here. It didn’t feel like I live here in New York on just a normal Saturday. It felt calming, it felt womblike, it felt really like there was something there that just calm you and make you think about everything, think about life, think about, just think about.” 


Twelve-year-old girl in the Solid Lightwork of Anthony McCall 


In a way, it's always interesting to see that what's closest to us is often so close that we can’t seem to be aware of it. It’s kind of invisible, intangible. As if we would need to travel to find it somewhere else, as if it wouldn’t be available to us right here, right now as the young girl describes here – "It didn't feel like I live here in New York on just a normal Saturday." 

It is illustrative that the very first works of McCall arose in the euphoric, melancholic, insecure transitory period of the early 1970s, and we are currently again subject to a fundamental shift of a nature that allows for a differentiation between a 'before' and an 'after'. In the 1970s it was manifested in the question of how art might continue after Pop Art and Andy Warhol, and how the plethora of images that emanated from television, film and magazines, and which increasingly affected our lives and consciousness, might be processed. Today we find ourselves at the threshold of a new reign, becoming subject of the mighty image machine that is the internet, and of a transformative economic turning point of universal effect, and, concurrently, of economic and humanistic questions that all call for a principal rethinking. 

Put succinctly: it is about becoming aware. 

In his book about logic, titled “Laws of form” from 1997, the mathematician George Spencer Brown points to the fact, that everything that is expressed, is expressed in a specific ‘form’. Form is the key. 

In the work of McCall 'form' becomes the experienced, embodied reality. It is only by coming into contact with it that we can come to be juxtaposed with the immediacy of the now, that we can become aware of being and the ultimate realization: There is no out there, out there. The work is insofar an example for how ethics can be immanent in aesthetics – “ethics and aesthetics are one” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) – and that in a manner which is abstract and not narrative. It is only in sensual experience that ethics may come to be manifest. McCalls artist fellow Richard Serra would add: “Postcards don’t tell.” The works of McCall – beside being film and light and sculpture and space and sketch and image and time – are primarily one thing: directly felt experience. 

By interacting with the work, we as a visitor can become aware of human modes of existence, structures and the relationship between the senses through and with the work and one and another. It thereby – although never intended – can lead to a deeper understanding, transformation and realization.

I was amazed when I was talking with this young girl who was visiting the show of Anthony McCall at Pioneer Works in New York with her family. She was not hesitating for a moment while the words came clearly, uninterrupted out of her mouth, not a single 'hm', 'well'. So fresh, so articulate, and so aware. There is no need to travel far! A split second can offer us a total shift in perception. Art can be such a birthplace of new realities, so it can be a piece of music or a poem – any creation or expression really that embodies and allows a present encounter. 

I didn’t have to explain this girl anything from a point of view of conventional art history. In the Solid Light, where there is nothing else to perceive than that what is – what you are in the light, as the light and its shadow, she had a moment of remembrance of the underlying phenomenon of existence which yet can only be perceived through and in form. And as such she reminded me in turn. This is how it works, again and again. This is how we are all relating together and are always being connected in a world in which we only falsely perceive ourselves as separated from each other. 

If we only open up to an approach in art, education and science that is freeing itself from pre-assembled, old believes and judgements and allow an experience to be felt within oneself through the body, direct and intimate, and with a permission to also simply be with that, we have gained a big step into the future. In the words of Nikola Tesla: “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all previous centuries of its existence.”

The children of today are the light bearers of the future. And the art of the now is one that allows these kind of “non-physical” layer into manifestation. In case of the work of Anthony McCall it happens in form of what one could state a great paradox: Solid Light. But ultimately, the paradox in itself the most genuine quality of all living being. Thus, no wonder that you can feel so alive and at the same time so peaceful and calm in your very own play with the work. Otherworldly and present at the same time! One in all.

Onward we go!


For more information on the artist please visit:

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