Sunday, April 08, 2007

Katie Tuss Interviews Anne Ellegood

Today is the last day left if you don’t want to miss the Hirshhorn Museum’s current exhibition Refract, Reflect, Project: Light Works from the Collection, which is on display through this Sunday, April 8, 2007. Katie Tuss recently spoke with Hirshhorn Associate Curator Anne Ellegood, who organized the exhibition, about the seductive nature of light and some of the highlights in the current show.

Katie Tuss: The show covers light works from 1959 to the present and numerous art movements are represented. How is the use of light developing differently than painting and sculpture?

Anne Ellegood
Anne Ellegood: Well I think that one thing that happens, and that has been happening for several decades, is that contemporary artists don’t feel like their work needs to be rooted in illusion or representation. Often times they want to remove that intermediate step, so that whatever they are making has a direct relationship to the material. Spencer Finch’s piece Cloud H20 talks about this. He doesn’t want to make a painting of the sky. To him it has already been done, and done very well. He wants to create something more direct. And light does that, even if it is artificial light. You may or may not think of a cloud and it doesn’t really matter, but you are probably going to have some sense of the kind of feeling you have when you look at a cloud.

KT: Yeah, that piece almost moves.

AE: Actually it does physically move with wind currents in the gallery. If there are enough people in the space, it will respond. The installation isn’t rigid.

KT: What are the opportunities for using light moving forward?

AE: With young artists, and what I have noticed with Olafur Eliasson and Ivan Navarro, they want a capacity for intimacy with an object and to establish a type of familiarity with the object, but easily weave in historical, social, and scientific aspects as well. They aren’t interested in completely formal investigation like Dan Flavin. They want to add back in a kind of content, but are still enamored with the directness of the light as a material.

KT: In Navarro’s piece Flashlight: I’m not from here, I’m not from there, is that a random man or the artist in the accompanying video, pushing the wheelbarrow made of fluorescent light tubes?

AE: It is a friend of the artist.

KT: There is a sense of intimacy the man has with the wheelbarrow as he physically pushes it around and this piece is immediately juxtaposed in the first room of the exhibition with Flavin’s “monument” for V. Tatlin.

AE: It is really great that we have the opportunity to put the Flavin with a work like Navarro’s. These are two artists with totally different backgrounds and different agendas, but Navarro’s generation is very aware of Flavin’s generation. Navarro’s piece is built from his knowledge of art history, with a desire to acknowledge his own background, life, preoccupations, and concerns. He has picked up on Flavin and given it his own twist. It is exciting that we have the ability to show the two works side by side. We are trying to do more of this so that histories don’t look like they are operating separately.

KT: It is helpful to know the precedence and then actually be able to see the precedence.

AE: If you pick up neon, you have to grapple with Flavin. It makes you think about how materials shift and your comfort with them as an audience. When Flavin was starting out with fluorescents, it was pretty radical. You didn’t use industrially produced elements in your artwork. We don’t think of this as radical anymore. For Navarro it isn’t radical. It becomes a conversation literally about power in a more ideological sense.