Paris, France. 12.09.2014. 14-22h. The tail end of summer, the evenings still long-ish, the breeze still warm-ish, everyone nostalgic for what has been and anxious for what is to come. In your mind, the city would hum with the echoes of cicadas. The twilight zone of your adolescence, the sweet cascade into ivresse, the idyllic landscape of your dreams, the soft fade into the hallucination of night. Everything is light enough to feel optimistic and dark enough to feel sexy. The bodily disposition would be lounging, a nice recline, ease. Smiling, taking generous gazes across people chatting, drinking, laughing, smoking. The moon is full of the parting sun’s heat and the inner sensation is warmth, presence. There is no thought of tomorrow because, without this sunset, it doesn’t exist.
The first birthday of Paris-based curatorial program Exo was celebrated by a one-night only show by US American artist Adam Cruces. Un Coucher de Soleil (a sunset) was an installation defined by the natural effect of changing light conditions. Physically, the gallery contains two large pieces of grey-ish drop sheet that had been slashed in certain places, creating a diagrammatic landscape that makes loose reference to 19th century French landscape painting. These canvas-like backdrops were hung parallel to the two main walls of Exo, but with enough space to pass behind. There, attached to each of them are neon works with blue gels, a squiggly line of light for each wall that reflected through the landscapes, blurred like a street sign in the rain. Getting close to these neons, there are small semi-transparent butterflies attached, like kitsch decorations for a bedroom. Yet more are stuck to a third wall, this time a bit larger and carved in light wood. A series of handmade ceramic lilypads holding colourful flowery candles are scattered across the floor, and the window is roughly painted in off-white with a large talismanic swirl chipped out so that the sun shines through the relief. It casts a perfect shadow on the concrete floor inside. Finally, a bunch of standard neons glow from the roof, gelled in slime green.
The extreme difference between how these elements work in the daytime, as the sun sets, and at night, is the key interest of Un Coucher de Soleil. The bright sun makes the components of the installation seem incredibly odd, strangely placed, almost nonsensical. At the same time, the harsh shadows that fall through the windows and the slits in the landscapes work to great effect. ‘Everything is constantly changing’, the show seems to say. By sunset, things are different again, the throbbing glow of the fluorescents is clearly felt, and at nightfall the candles are lit, floating as if on a lake that reflects the sky above. Cruces’ aim is to create a landscape, an immersive experience. In the final phase we are left with the clubby effect of clashing coloured light (and by now everyone’s a bit drunk, anyway); the effect is slightly trashy but very well mannered. A happy coincidence: from the courtyard outside, where the punters are lounging and a barbecue cooks, one notices the stairway of the Exo building is lit up with pink neons.
By using natural, artificial and candle light, and putting it in conversation with strategically placed sculptures and the architecture of the building itself, Cruces succeeds not only in facilitating a somatic experience (and a charming soirée to boot) but in making viewers aware that the experience of time is a product of light. Many artists who work technically with light often instrumentalise it, wrestling this life source into place to render it discrete and malleable (Cerith Wyn Evans, for example, pops to mind). This implies that the work ends when the artist says so (or when the power is switched off), which is to say that in the end it is static even if superficially ‘flashing’. Un Coucher de Soleil, as an immersive, time-based installation, uses light in the opposite manner. The work is only realised because the sun sets, and it runs the risk of the weather, an overcast day would alter it completely. Yes, electrical light is present but its effect can only be felt durationally, in time with the sun. Without this movement the work wouldn’t exist.
With this in mind, a final note on the butterflies. A few people expressed doubt about them, saying that they are excessive, cheap, trendy. Yet read through the lens of allegory, I’d rather say they were part of the landscape, a symbol for regeneration, the cycle of life, constant movement; a sunset like any other. **
Exhibition photos, top right.