The Duration of Light
26 April – 14 May
Duration of Light
Light is fundamental and yet remains darkly mysterious. Light allows vision but cannot be seen directly, it must be inferred from surface reflections and refractions.
Even a shaft of light piercing a darkened room is visible only because dust motes and minutia scatter its beam. That which does not reflect is invisible and thus what we see of the world is solely a reflection. The sun, source of our light, cannot be seen directly without the risk of obliterating vision itself. Even to look upon the sun is to only see the source of light, not light itself. To its great chagrin, modern science cannot surmount light's mystery and accords this most basic element an uncertain and contradictory nature – it is both particle and wave – yet these states are mutually exclusive.
Painters manipulate the appearance of light, traditionally emulating its reflections and fixing its mercurial luminescence on a two dimensional surface. Such painting, through clever and skilful illusion, allows the viewer to imagine they are looking into a world of depth, yet the surface remains resolutely flat. David Thomas' The Duration of Light is also painterly, it manipulates the appearance of light through paint but rather than standing outside the painting looking in, Thomas invites the viewer within the painting by spatializing and temporalising the picture plane. He creates an actual, activated, painted space that surrounds the viewer rather than maintaining a discrete, unbridgeable, distance on the wall. Unlike a traditional installation, this space is not a series of arranged objects, but is comprised of strategically placed monochromes on the two dimensional surfaces of the walls and windows.
Light is never still. It dances, bounces, beams – ever active, it plays within this work. Light passes across and reflects from these painted surfaces to create a broadened pictorialized space. Light shines through the partly occluded end window into the space and this light shifts, dances with the passing traffic, shimmers with shadows and is reflected back from painted surfaces within. Through this flow of light, the outside is brought inside to be subject to further reflection, recalling the very processes implicit in perception and cognition. Inside, the monochromes are painted in the colours of exterior objects chosen and fixed at a particular moment in time and space. The painted plane on the window – visible from the street as a simple colour – becomes a mirror. The viewer has entered an active, immersive painting, a space calculated to enhance the chance plays of light and to heighten the visitor's awareness of their own relationship to the space – their time of being within it. The viewer is transformed, becoming a participant, embodied in their experience rather than occupying the stance of a remote observer, external to the picture. The space itself becomes an embodied painting, not a distant and illusory plane, but a plane synonymous with the plane of existence itself and located within the plane of time. Thus the artist produces not a simple sight but a site within which the participant's perceptions may play, just as light plays through the space.
In the small room, painted bright yellow, one is immersed, submerged, in the sensation of pure colour. The visual mechanism becomes fatigued, is desperate for difference, it imagines visions of complimentary hues and when one leaves the room, the world seems to have changed, its colour shifted. We take with us a philosophical quandary of seeing, knowing, being – is it the world or the viewer that has altered? Is there a difference?
Within these shifts there is also duration. The solidity of the painted surfaces remain still, as in traditional painting, yet all around them moves. The stasis of painting contrasts to the active perceptions of the viewer that alter through time and, paradoxically, make the paintings change. Like light, paintings have a dual and contradictory nature, they shift because they are still.
This is not a simple space of light but of delight, literally, of brilliance. A place of play, of dancing, chuckling nuance intended to infuse the participant in the vast but often overlooked richness of being within time.
Stephen Haley 2004
David Thomas would like to acknowledge the support of RMIT School of Art and Culture and Conny Dietzschold Gallery Sydney and Cologne. Tel 02 9690 0215
This project is assisted by the Australian Federal Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.