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Ann Veronica Janssens

b. 1956, Folkestone, UK Lives and works in Brussels, Belgium

Ann Veronica Janssens uses devices such as light, artificial fog, colour projections, mirrors, reflective materials and sound in order to push human perception to its limits. She describes the space-time experiences at the heart of her work as being close to altered states of consciousness. Janssens made her first indoor haze installations in the late 1990s, constructing enclosed spaces filled with vapour coloured by light. More recently, wall-mounted works such as Rose (2007) have combined artificial fog with beams of light. The haze makes the intersecting beams visible, revealing a luminous star in which light appears to solidify.

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Anthony McCall

b. 1946, St Paul’s Cray, UK. Lives and works in New York, NY, USA

Anthony McCall created his first ‘solid-light’ films in the early 1970s. In these early works, a projected beam of light, instead of being a carrier of coded information, is experienced as a 3-dimensional presence involving movement and occupying space and time. Based on the same projected-beam-of-light principle, You and I, Horizontal (2005) is a ‘solid light’ installation, a large sculpture made of light which can be walked around, into, and through. But, as McCall explains, it is also like a film, ‘because even as you explore it, it will slowly move and change.’

Anthony McCall You and I Horizontal, 2005; © the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London. Photo: Blaise Adilon.

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Bill Culbert

b. 1935, Port Chalmers, New Zealand Lives and works in London, UK and Provence, France

Since the mid 1960s, Bill Culbert has explored light through photography, sculpture and installation. In the early 1970s, he made a series of visually puzzling light-bulb sculptures using magicians’ props such as two-way mirrors. One of these, Bulb Box Reflection II (1975), appears to present nothing more than an incandescent light bulb and its reflection in a mirror. The mystery is that the bulb’s reflection is alight while the actual bulb itself is not. Reflecting on his early experimental works, Culbert remarked: ‘Light was not used to make it possible to see the sculpture; it was the piece of sculpture.’

Bill Culbert Bulb Box Reflection II, 1975; © the artist. Image © and courtesy Bill Culbert and Laurent Delaye Gallery. Photo: Matthew Hollow.

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Brigitte Kowanz

b. 1957, Vienna, Austria. Lives and works in Vienna, Austria

Brigitte Kowanz began using artificial light in her art in the mid-1980s. In her early experiments with light she exploited its ability not only to create spaces, but also to make them vanish. These investigations led on to other works involving perceptual experiences in which architectural space is transformed or discomposed. Light Steps (1990) is an ascending sequence of fluorescent tubes spanning space like a flight of stairs. Each lighting tube becomes an apparently disembodied, floating rung; as a sequence they seem both to extend and expand the place that they occupy, generating an ambiguous virtual space.

Brigitte Kowanz Light Steps, 1990; © the artist. Photo: Matthias Hermann.

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Carlos Cruz-Diez

b. 1923, Caracas, Venezuela. Lives and works in Paris, France

Carlos Cruz-Diez began his series of fluorescent Chromosaturation installations in 1965. These artificial environments create immersive spaces where colour ‘acts with all its force on the spectator’s skin, objects and surrounding wall surfaces.’ Each Chromosaturation is composed of three separate colour chambers; one red, one green and one blue. ‘Since the retina usually perceives a wide range of colours simultaneously,’ Cruz-Diez explains, ‘experiencing these monochromatic situations causes disturbances. This activates and awakens notions of colour in the viewer, who becomes aware of colour’s material and physical existence. Colour becomes a situation happening in space.’

Carlos Cruz-Diez Chromosaturation, 2008. © the artist. Image courtesy Atelier Cruz-Diez Paris.

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Ceal Floyer

b. 1968, Karachi, Pakistan. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany

Ceal Floyer makes sculptures and installations that often focus on our awareness of space and light, and on the interplay of idea and physical presence. The deceptive simplicity of her work draws attention to aspects of reality that are so unremarkable that they go unnoticed. In Throw (1997), a puddle of light is thrown on the floor like spilt paint. The whole illusion is created by a theatre lamp fitted with a gobo, a mask which controls the shape of the emitted light. At the same time, because the mechanics of the projection are completely visible, the nature of the illusion is made transparent.

Ceal Floyer Throw, 1997; © and courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London & Esther Schipper, Berlin & 303 Gallery, New York. Photo © Carsten Eisfeld, 2008.

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Cerith Wyn Evans

b. 1958, Wales, UK. Lives and works in London, UK

In the 1990s Cerith Wyn Evans began to create sculptures and installations movement and light, including short texts spelt out in neon or with fireworks. He characterises the slow sequential lighting up and dimming down of the three illuminated columns of S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (2010) as a sort of ‘breathing’. This, together with the intermittent radiant heat generated the lamps (incandescent bulbs in tubular form), reflects the unearthliness of the text that forms the other, parenthetical, part of its title: ('Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…'). This cryptic utterance is taken from an epic poem by James Merrill, which documents messages dictated by supernatural voices during Ouija séances.

Cerith Wyn Evans, S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…’), 2010; © the artist. Image courtesy White Cube. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography.

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Conrad Shawcross

b. 1977, London, UK. Lives and works in London, UK

Conrad Shawcross’ Slow Arc inside a Cube (2008) involves a complex play of moving light and shadows. It owes its genesis to an anecdote about the immensely complicated process of mapping the molecular structure of insulin by means of crystal radiography, a feat achieved by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dorothy Hodgkin. Shawcross explains that though he has always made works with light and movement, he was never very interested in shadows until he read Hodgkin’s description of the process, which she compared to decoding the shape of a tree from the shadows its leaves cast on a wall.

Conrad Shawcross Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV, 2009; © the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

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Dan Flavin

b. 1933, New York, NY, USA; d. 1996 New York, NY, USA

In 1963, Dan Flavin produced his first work created purely from fluorescent light. For the rest of his life, he worked exclusively with mass-produced, commercially available fluorescent lights, nearly always using a limited ‘palette’ of four standard lengths of tube in ten colours, including four different whites. These characterless and utilitarian objects became the medium for works of phenomenal intensity and beauty. Describing his work, Flavin remarked: ‘It is what it is and it ain’t nothin’ else ... There is no hidden psychology, no overwhelming spirituality you are supposed to come into contact with ... it is as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find.’

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David Batchelor

b. 1955, Dundee, Scotland. Lives and works in London, England

David Batchelor’s art celebrates the intense, synthetic colour that characterises modern cities. Because illuminated colour is such a conspicuous feature of the urban environment, light has become an important aspect of his work. His sculptures and installations are created from the plastics and electricity that generate what he regards as ‘the great colours of the city’, and he finds his most of his materials on the street. Batchelor is especially drawn to the way in which vivid colour co-exists with dirt and a degree of darkness. In Magic Hour (2004/2007), which evokes dusk in Las Vegas, he presents the backs of found lightboxes, causing their multicoloured aureole to shine on the wall behind.

David Batchelor Magic Hour, 2004/7; © the artist. Photo: David Batchelor.

Doug Wheeler

b. 1939, Globe, AZ, USA Lives and works in Santa Fe, NM, USA

In the early 1960s, Doug Wheeler abandoned painting on canvas to create ‘paintings’ made entirely of Perspex and neon light. These led on to his series of ‘light encasements’. Hung on the wall in a darkened room, Light Encasement (1971) appears to float freely in space. Speaking of this series of works, Wheeler says that they were ‘created from large sheets of vaccuum-formed plastic with neon embedded inside the frame. They were installed in the centre of a wall in an entirely white room where all the angles were coved and where ambient light was controlled.When the piece was turned on, it dematerialised and appeared to be a suspended colour field of light.’

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Fischli and Weiss

David Weiss b. 1946, Zürich, Switzerland; d. 2012, Zurich, Switzerland
Peter Fischli b. 1952, Zürich, Switzerland
Lives and works in Zürich, Switzerland

During their long artistic collaboration, Peter Fischli and David Weiss created photographs, films, sculpture and installations which are characterised by a delight in the home-made and the improvised. Son et Lumière (Le rayon vert) (1990) is assembled from an electric torch, a clear ‘cut-glass’ plastic cup and a motorised cake-stand. The ‘son et lumière’ alludes to the spectacular outdoor night-time entertainments in which historic buildings are transformed into pageants of sound and light. ‘Le rayon vert’, refers to an optical phenomenon – the elusive green ray sometimes seen on the horizon at sunset – celebrated in a book by Jules Verne and in a film by Eric Rohmer.

Fischli and Weiss Son et Lumière (Le Rayon Vert), 1990; © the artists. Image courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London, Galerie Eva Presenhuber Zürich, Matthew Marks Gallery New York

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François Morellet

b. 1926, Cholet, France Lives and works in Cholet and Paris, France

Since the early 1960s, François Morellet’s sculptures, architectural interventions and ephemeral installations have featured neon and other forms of electric light. His early neon works were based on mathematical rules and systems, and often involved movement. Many of his subsequent light works are static, featuring neon tubes in different configurations that relate directly to spatial or architectural situations and play with the viewer’s perception of space. Lamentable (2006) is an elegant neon sculpture consisting of eight dislocated sections of a circle. Morellet suggests that the English translation of its title should be ‘pitiful’ or ‘miserable’, since ‘the beautiful circle hangs down in a pitiful way.’

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Iván Navarro

b. 1972, Santiago, Chile Lives and works in New York, NY, USA

Growing up in Chile during the dictatorship of General Pinochet, Iván Navarro experienced the regime’s systems of control and repression. Echoes of this have since found expression in his art. Both Reality Show (2010) and Burden (Lotte World Tower) (2011) control not only light, but the viewer’s perceptions. Inside Reality Show, a phonebox-like cubicle which mirrors itself to infinity, the visitor seems to disappear, though they can be seen by other viewers outside the box. The illusion depends on light and one-way mirrors. These also feature in Burden, a flat neon wall sculpture which gives viewers the illusion of looking into the hollow interior of a vertiginously tall skyscraper.

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James Turrell

b. 1943, Los Angeles, CA, USA Lives and works in Flagstaff, AZ, USA

‘My work is about space and the light that inhabits it,’ James Turrell observes. ‘It is about your seeing.’ Since the late 1960s, he has made ‘perceptual environments’, using only natural or artificial light. His works extend and enhance perception and act as sites of contemplation and revelation. In Turrell’s series of Wedgeworks, which he began in 1969, he causes light to fall across rooms so as to divide the space diagonally, creating seemingly tangible surfaces and planes. To experience Wedgework V (1975), the viewer must wait for their eyes to adjust to the light levels within the room, then the longer that they spend there the more they will see.

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Jenny Holzer

b. 1950, Gallipolis, OH, USA Lives and works in New York, NY, USA

In the late 1970s, Jenny Holzer began using words to make art because she wanted to be ‘explicit about things.’ Her artworks feature texts that she has written, and words written by other people, including poems and declassified government documents. She first used electronic LED signs in 1982 when she was invited to work on a project for the newly-installed Spectacolor Board in New York’s Times Square. Since then, Holzer has continued to use LEDs to convey hard-hitting political messages. The sardonically titled MONUMENT (2008), a tower of semicircular LED elements that are stacked one above the other, features texts – declassified US government documents – from the ‘war on terror’.

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Jim Campbell

b. 1956, Chicago, IL, USA. Lives and works in San Francisco, CA, USA

Jim Campbell’s ‘exploded views’ combine elements of sculpture and cinema, stretching the moving image into three dimensions. Seen from most perspectives, these works appear as random arrays of lights that blink on and off. But from a certain distance and at a particular angle, a discernible image emerges. As the viewer moves around Exploded View (Commuters) (2011) shadowy figures can be perceived. This impression is created by more than 1,000 low-energy LED lights. Suspended individually on a grid of wires attached to the ceiling, each light flickers like a pixel; collectively, they appear to coalesce into an image.

Jim Campbell Exploded View (Commuters), 2011 (detail); © the artist. Image courtesy Sarah Christianson.

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Katie Paterson

b. 1981, Glasgow, Scotland. Lives and works in Berlin, German

As a result of increasing light pollution, natural moonlight – a mix of reflected sunlight, starlight and earthlight – is an increasingly rare experience. Katie Paterson’s Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight (2008) goes some way to remedy this by attempting to re-create moonlight through artificial means. In the same way that lighting manufacturers created the standard incandescent ‘daylight’ bulb, Paterson worked with a lighting engineer to produce its opposite: a bulb that replicates the light emitted when the moon is in opposition with the sun. The finished artwork consists of a single, lit bulb together with a sufficient quantity of spare bulbs to provide a lifetime’s supply of moonlight.

Katie Paterson, Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight, 2008. Photo © MJC.

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Leo Villareal

b. 1967, Albuquerque, NM, USA. Lives and works in New York, NY, USA

Using strobe lights, neon and, most recently, LEDs activated by his own custom-made software, Leo Villareal’s mesmerising sculptures and installations are animated by complex sequencing. The 19,600 white LED lights that form Cylinder II (2012) are orchestrated in such a way that they create endlessly changing patterns, evoking meteor showers, falling snow, clouds of fireflies and other natural phenomena. The lights perform abstract choreographies in space. Their intensity and speed changes; they shimmer, glow, appear to rise and fall or oscillate. Villareal explains that the sequencing has no beginning, middle or end and says, ‘it’s like an elaborate shuffle scheme, it’s never going to repeat the same progression of sequences again.’

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Nancy Holt

b. 1938, Worcester, MA, USA. Lives and works in Galisteo, NM, USA

In her large-scale interventions into natural and man-made landscape, Nancy Holt uses ‘locators’ – holes and tunnels – to channel the viewer’s vision and frame a particular view. Her particular concerns are to make people more aware of light, space and time, their own visual perception, and the order of the universe. One of her few indoor installations, Holes of Light (1973), consists of a central partition with a diagonal line of holes lit from either side. Here, she plays with the indeterminacy of light and variable viewing positions. The illumination constantly switches from one side of the partition to the other, creating alternate effects of light and shade.

Nancy Holt, Holes of Light, 1973; © the artist. Image courtesy Haunch of Venison, London. Photo: Richard Landry. Licensed by DACS, London.

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Olafur Eliasson

b. 1967, Copenhagen, Denmark Lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Berlin, Germany

Olafur Eliasson’s work involves experimentation, primarily with light, colour and perception. He is theartist who created The Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2003,and his art often gives rise optically disorienting phenomena, such as flashing stroboscopic lamps, which have the effect of appearing to reverse or immobilise movement. Since 1996, he has made a series of works featuring strobe lights and moving water in which each flash of light momentarily ‘freezes’ the falling liquid. In Model for a timeless garden (2011), which consists of a succession of 27 different fountains, the strobe effect produces an ever-changing landscape of apparently icy festoons and garlands.

Hayward Gallery - Light Show - Olafur Eliasson - Model for a Timeless Garden from Southbank Centre on Vimeo.

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Philippe Parreno

b. 1964, Oran, Algeria Lives and works in Paris, France

Illuminated marquees – canopies projecting over entrances to large buildings – have been described as ‘electric tiaras’ and were originally designed as highly-visible landmarks, drawing attention to cinemas, theatres and other venues in busy streets. Philippe Parreno, whose films, sculptures, performances and writings are informed by both cinema and exhibition-making, creates marquees for the entrances of exhibitions and above doorways in gallery spaces. He describes these projections as ‘outgrowths; they invade the exhibition space’. Varying in size and splendour from the modest to the spectacularly glamorous, the marquees’ flashing lights offer a special welcome to the visitor and at the same time herald other art and other experiences.