INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

As lighting design establishes itself as a valuable form of interior design, the public's fascination with the use of artificial light and its manipulation grows ever stronger. We all share a common knowledge of light's purpose within an interior space. However, with the variety of artificial light sources, such as LED, neon tubes, coloured bulbs, torches and theatrical spotlights, our perceptions can be challenged with the creation of intangible objects and atmospheres within a familiar space.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery in London brings together "sculptures and installations that use artificial light to transform space and to influence and alter perception" from across five decades of lighting design since the 1960s.

American artist Leo Villareal opens the exhibition with his work, Cylinder II (2012). The mesmerising movement of light through a collection of vertical LED tubes changes in intensity to evoke different moods. The light rises in a calm drift only to descend again in a glittering cosmic shower. The cylindrical shape of Villareal's installation encourages the viewer to rotate around the semi-transparent work as if in orbit.

This draw towards artificial light is often found when it comes to neon, a light source used in advertising and by artists such as Tracey Emin to illustrate sentiment. The dangling tube of Francois Morellet's sculpture, Lamentable (2006) is in fact a perfect circle kinked into an awkward shape. Although Morellet manipulates light into a jagged form, the circle remains perpetual.

Another common association with light is warmth. Electricity provides heat in Cerith Wyn Evans' monolithic pillars that stand at one end of the main gallery. S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (2010) lights up in a sequential dimming and brightening of its bulbs similar to the act of breathing. It both calms and invigorates as the viewer recognises a familiar sense of "home" in the vicinity of the columns.

Bill Culbert's puzzling work Bulb Box Reflection II (1975) at first looks like a simple light bulb set against a mirror. However, on closer inspection the electric filament only glows in the foreground: the bulb in the mirror is off. Through the use of one-way mirrors and similar devices Culbert experimented with light bulb works throughout the 1970s.

Jim Campbell's 'exploded views' combines installation art and cinema as a myriad of suspended LED lights flicker on and off. What emerges are commonly perceived images, such as people walking, that can be readily associated with everyday life.

The dark tunnel that leads to James Turrell's Wedgework V (1974) evokes a sense of vulnerability as people cross each other's paths with caution. The dark space opens out to reveal a room filled with intense red light, manipulated through the use of screens to form alternating levels of perspective. Sitting within the space the interior becomes protective, womb-like as if hidden at the centre of the earth.

Conrad Shawcross uses light in a rather more disturbing way in his Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV (2009). At the centre of the room, a rotating light casts repetitive geometric patterns across the wall. The constant rapidity of the shadow has a dizzying and frantic effect.

Brigitte Kowanz's use of neon tubes simulates a staircase within a large room. Light Steps (1990/2013) feeds off our association with tangible objects merely by placing artificial light in a certain way. We immediately imagine climbing the steps and question, "where do they lead" as our comprehension of real and implied is challenged.

Jenny Holzer has often used words in her work to be explicit. However, it is the intensity of light rather than the transcript that jars in her installation, MONUMENT (2008). As the text rolls across a huge tower of stacked semi-circular LED screens, descriptions of human injuries are paired with flashes of neon pink and purple light, culminating in an overpowering throb.

Olafur Eliasson wraps up Light Show with his intrepid Model for a timeless garden (2011). Strobe lights flicker inside of the pitch-black room as a collection of water fountains fall in staccato on to grey foam. Eliasson's work is a total sensory attack and comes with a health warning. Just a brief moment inside of this room is enough to see the resultant beauty of such chaos.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery, London runs until 28 April 2013. For further information and tickets please visit

Photo credits:
Brigitte Kowanz Light Steps (1990-2013) ©the artist, Photo: Linda Nylind
Leo Villareal Cylinder II (2012) ©the artist, Photo: Linda Nylind
Conrad Shawcross Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV (2009) © the artist, Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London