First Light Diary Entries
First Light - First Diary Entry - April 19th, 2010
Plan of cloister
The Cathedral installation proposal was originally intended for a ‘covered’ location in the Cloister’s north arcading. The agreed site is now the quad in the centre of the Cloister, which calls for a different, though related work. The work described in the original proposal will go to the Orientation Space at The Collection in Lincoln, and this installation will run concurrently with the Cathedral installation throughout March 2011.
First experience, April 19th, 3.40pm, Lincoln Cathedral
Contemplating the entirety of the West Front of the Cathedral – the second largest cathedral in Europe – from an exactly central position 50 yards away surpasses, in a most surprising way, the experience of merely looking. The vast, tall, deeply recessed central archway transforms into a dark inner emptiness of the body. Above this, the outwardly expansive force of the dominant, horizontal string course, which extends out across almost the entire width of the elevation top, is experienced as a powerful, expanding stream of movement across the upper chest – a momentary horizontal flash of force, and a break in the ascendant surge that carries on up through the towers and central pointed gable.
The experience reinforces my conviction in the power of the basic directions of space as they are felt on the physical body.
It carries with me into the contemplatively serene space of the Cloister, which is, surprisingly, surrounded by a fairly fast regular rhythm of double Gothic arched windows on three sides. The contradiction is intriguing. The fourth elevation, on the north side, has a slow, broader rhythm of Romanesque arches which support the Christopher Wren library above.
The West Front experience keeps merging with a revelatory experience I had when listening to the concluding passages of Anton Bruckner’s 4th symphony on May 25th, 2004: as the sound vibrations from the music coursed up to the solar plexus, then up to the heart, then up to the crown of the head, a reciprocation of force exploded outwards, at each level, creating a powerful horizontal ever-expanding radius which flowed out into the surrounding space. On reaching the crown, this expanding stream connected with the unseen dimension in the space around which was manifested in a condition of dynamic equilibrium. These experiences today also mingle with feelings about another project recently in development – a sequence of 19 mirrored cubes with regular horizontal yellow light-lines extending over 43 metres wide.
The possibility of truly yielding to the first striking impression of the West Front and its immediate connection with music, and allowing this to somehow flow out from lines of radiant light that emerge harmoniously from within the Cloister space – in which the ‘external’ horizontal line of the West Front is recapitulated but subordinated to a dominant ‘interior’ vertical line within the Cloister – becomes perhaps one opening for the work.
More and more the serene beauty of this space fills me with a wish to allow the lines of light to emerge naturally from the spaces and rhythms of the architecture. To achieve this, I must contemplate the experience of the space from zero and allow it to shape the formation of the work. I want to enable an experience of light to arise from the past, present and future life of this space – in an expression of full accord.
First Light - Diary Entry April 26th, 2010, 4.30pm, on site
On three sides of the Cloister, the walls are pierced with a fast ornate rhythm of double Gothic windows with pointed arches. The vertical and horizontal emphasis of the installation will not harmonise with these elements, so the decision is provisionally made to allow the installation to emerge out of the slower broader rhythm of the arcading extending across the width of the Christopher Wren Library. Here, the arches are circular and will harmonise with the basic directions of space – the arcading will become the ‘canvas’ behind the work and could determine the scale, proportions and dimensions of the whole installation.
An experience: a white dove settles on the string course a few paces from the absolute centre of the north wall. I wish that it will move a few paces to the left – it does so and is positioned for a few moments in the dead centre directly above the central location for the work!
The installation could comprise a rhythm of structures which are opposed to a single isolated vertical structure in the centre of the quad, the height of which corresponds to that of the upper string course.
Intention: to establish one tall central installation with a strong vertical emphasis and to oppose this with a background sequence of horizontal lights pitched at above-head height, spanning, if possible, the whole width of the arcading.
The central work, 3.85 – 4.5m. high, could comprise a tall narrow stand rising to above head height. The sculpture would begin at perhaps 2.3m. high, with a central piercing yellow light-line rising to the top. The form for this work also corresponds with experiences from music – those of the heart-opening Bruckner Masses heard in February 2009 – while the above-head rising light-line comes from an experience immediately after listening to a work by John Taverner, in March 2008.
First aim – how to physically support up to 9 horizontal light panels at 2m.+ high, located in a continuous sequence across the width of the arcading. Possible solutions: 1) The supporting structure is a hollow rectangle, with narrow side walls. 2) The structure is open on all sides with narrow corner supports. 3) It is a narrow aerial horizontal structure which would be connected directly to the pillars.
May 7th, 2010, in studio
The simplest form emerges as a solution to the above: an empty space flanked by two vertical supports for each light panel, but no base (i.e. an arch-like structure). The form meets the intention that the centre of each work should be void, transparent or lit with a narrow light. The experience of form in the centre of any part of this installation is, I feel, entirely inappropriate. There can be the potential of movement, of living force, in a gap or through the medium of light – but form is inert. We ‘become’ what we see, and I feel that here, space itself or light should be allowed to flow, unencumbered if possible, through the very centre of every part of the installation, and we should experience this at the centre of our being.
Rather than being separate solid objects of contemplation, these simple forms would go a step further – becoming portals which you could walk through and which would give rise naturally to the experience of a journey from… and to… And it would reinforce two things: the experience of being the subject of the work oneself, and the experience that the work has no content
May 8th, 2010
To ‘float’ the warm fluorescent yellow light-lines over a cool perpendicularity, deep Prussian/ultramarine blue could be applied over each support. Tonally these should harmonise with the dark arcade they would front, so that the blue tone would merge with the ground while the blue hue would vibrate against it. Conversely, the yellow light-lines should ultimately vibrate with a shrill intensity and in absolute contrast against the dark tone of the arcade.
If the tall light-line of the central vertical work begins its upward journey from the same height as the level at which the horizontal yellows ‘float,’ a concordance may be achieved. The impression, surprisingly, brings to mind something of a resonance with the final passages of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony. There is the possibility of an emerging upward tonal journey – lower, grounded deep tones, perhaps corresponding to the deep velvety tones of nature at dusk, and a higher tone of percussive intensity, perhaps corresponding to the shrill sensation of sunlight blazing across the sea. For both experiences to vibrate equally and for a genuinely centrifugal force to expand out from the central work while a perpendicular movement lifts upwards, the light-line proportions must correspond effectively.
May 19th – June19th, 2010
The experience of harmony involves separation – it involves a duality or multiplicity which fuses – while emergence is related to the experience of oneness. If the work truly emerges from its context, and attains contentless emptiness, it may connect the observer to the flow of the dimension beyond the senses, which is more significant than the appearance of the specific work. This is a gift of the space itself, an historic space of contemplation, a gift which lies beyond the wishes of the artist. It is only with a total respect for the space that a truly affirmative transformation can take place – that the space itself can transform the work into an active channel giving positive experiences. The appearance, dimensions and scale of the work are only the by-products. But their resolution is essential. Light will be the only part of the work which is not a by-product, as it is connected directly to the unseen universe – it is the first element.
Sequence of 7 arch-framed portals with horizontal lights facing a centrally located vertical light-line rising from tall stand.
Portal verticals: deep light-absorbing ultramarine-Prussian blue.
Lintels: deep light-absorbing purple.
Crowning horizontal line: electrifying golden yellow light.
Central work (white stand and white light-line frames): electrifying golden yellow vertical light-line.
Central work (above head-height window, side view): transparent pink light.
Blue, purple and golden yellow are the colours I have experienced in meditation when attention is focused respectively upon the inner body axis at throat level, centre of forehead, and at the crown
Arising from an inner volition, the installation may give a journey of upwardly de-materialising light effects, in which experiences pass through absorbed light, reflected light, transparent tinted light to pure transmitted light.
The slightly uneven nature of the ancient stone flooring of the arcading, makes this choice of installation challenging in terms of attaining robust stability, verticality and consistency in light-line level.
Second Installation ‘Idea’
This would re-instate the original idea of installing a tall mirror-framed light-line, which on one side of the quad would flank the central taller light-line of the first installation ‘idea’ (with its above-head height light-line). It would balance symmetrically with another mirrored work, a cube with a gold-plated interior which would internally flood with brilliant red light, located on the quad’s opposite side. Gold significantly intensifies red reflectance. If effective, the mirrored exterior would essentially ‘disappear,’ the interior would become a solid red-light volume and form an illusory, square light-plane suspended in mid-air, several feet above the ground. Red is associated with the earth. In this context it might represent the beginning of a development – leading from: -
Earth – horizontal red (work on the left side of quad); through body – mirrored reflection (work on right side of quad); to space above – vertical golden-yellow light (work in centre of quad). This last colour and the space itself are related to the crown of the head, from which level the work would begin its upward ascent.
THE MIRROR FRAMED LIGHT-LINE WORK in progress.
A mirror framed light-line work would be the first choice for the installation at the Collection Museum in Lincoln, which will run concurrently with the Cathedral installation throughout March 2011. But a mirror framed work could be installed at the Cathedral also.
Front and side elevations of mirror framed light-line work, drawn by engineer Tom Carter
The specifications for this work, which is being developed by Benson Sedgwick Engineering Ltd., Dagenham, are very exacting and are in the vicinity of the absolute limit of stability that a stainless steel work can sustain. A work like this has never been made before, and the final outcome cannot be fully guaranteed. The integrity of the central acrylic light panel cannot permit any material to pass through it. This means that the whole structure has to be held together without any form of bolting, welding or bonding. Through the expertise and ingenuity of engineers Barry Goillau and Tom Carter, remarkable solutions to these challenges have been found – but doubtless there will be further challenges as the project advances.
Engineering Drawing No. 2 – showing clamping structure attached to mirror framed light-line work, by Tom Carter
To stabilise the long, narrow stainless steel bars they were firstly heat-treated at very high temperatures – to remove dormant tensions. The bars were then machined to exacting specifications by Steve Toby and then from these, he assembled the work provisionally and clamped it in four places to ensure that when the curve of a radius of 152mm is machined on the two front and two back faces of the work, there will be no movement of the narrow bars. The radius needs to be precise and consistent over the full nearly 2m. length, in order to give the correct elongated reflection of the observer at viewing distance. The two curved faces will later be mirror-polished and will frame a nearly 2m. high electrifying yellow light-line. At correct viewing distance, the mirror reflections of the body need to harmonise perfectly with the central perpendicular light-line, which in the reflection will course up and down the central axis of the body.
Engineer Tom Carter in the B&S workshop inspecting the clamping structure for the mirror framed work
Portals: Paintings whose central emptiness the visitor is invited to walk through.
All works in the two installations will have either emptiness or transmitted light defining their vertical axes. The two main works will both oppose emptiness to light on their two vertical axes. These characteristics, which emerged from my earlier practice of painting, make me feel that each of these works functions aesthetically as two paintings which oppose one symmetrical experience to another on 90 degree different planes, without one experience confusing the other. The works therefore present two planimetrically viewed ‘faces,’ which each function as a complete and independent experience.
July 15 th and July 19th
Reaction to first full-scale model for the mirrored stainless steel work: the experience of the tall light-line is predictably powerful with an electrifying tension between the intense centrifugal force of the perpendicular yellow light-line in opposition to the centripetal force of the mirror reflections. As the vertical mirrors are flat and set at angles of 8 degrees, they do not give an elongated body reflection. The spherical radius of the mirror reflections in the final work will draw the full height of the viewer’s ‘elongated’ body into the full force of a centripetal and illuminated perpendicularity. This work was made primarily by Gary Scott of The Mill, Old Wood North, Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire, and went through numerous revisions in the making. Further minor revisions to the form were made before Benson and Sedgwick began fabricating the stainless steel work. The experience of the tall pinkish-orange tinted window elevation has exceeded my expectations. Seen against a white background, the soft tinted light gives an affirmative experience of uplift and serenity, while the muted transparency gives a deep centripetal calmness which recalls some of the very late pastel tinted works of Rothko. The feeling of association is somehow very strong, but the difference in formulation shows deep respect to this revered artist.
Ideally the elevation of emptiness should be experienced before the elevation with the vertical light-line, which would mark a progression in meditation from emptiness to light.
I will experiment with placing the work against different background values and will gain further reactions to this model.
August 7th – 18th Project overview
My wish at the outset of this project was to experience the Cloister space in a state as close as possible to absolute zero and to allow the installation to form from a process of unconditional inner volition unhindered by ego or intellect. In this way the project would arise from pure intentionality.
I realise now that this project – and it has only just become clear – may integrate a three-stage journey into an installation which will present stringent encounters with the primordial directions of space. It may take the viewer through, firstly, an inward journey, then an ascending journey and then an outward journey. The process will ‘open’ with the portals, which will ‘frame’ the observer on entering the work. These enclosed spaces, giving a dark-blue colour vibration around the body, may encourage thoughtlessness and ‘going within’ and inspire recognition that the universal truth each of us is searching for, whether through art, music or literature, lies within. In my experience this truth can’t be apprehended through language, intellect, the emotions or the senses, but can only be experienced in the present moment when we have reached absolute zero. Having passed through this ‘threshold,’ the viewer’s attention will then be drawn upwards by the vertical light rising from above head-height in the middle of the Cloister quad, a light which emits a semi-circular radiance and gives an ascending experience leading to open space – to the sky – and so connecting inner to outer space.
The final stage of the journey will begin after the viewer has passed the central vertical light and can then survey the entire work from the optimal vantage point – on the opposite side of the quad. In advancing towards this comprehensive viewpoint, the three stages of the work may build like Bruckner’s 4th Symphony which emerges from nothingness and opens with an orchestration of the celestial sound of nature, ‘the sound of zero.’ This beautiful, continuous and variable undulating tone, changing sometimes in pitch, frequency and intensity, is heard from above the head. As I write, I can hear it quite loudly now. From this foundation sound, the 4th Symphony makes a gradual vertical ascent and then finally expands out into a great circumference of energy – connecting the listener (as I described at the start of the project in April) to the energy in the surrounding space, which manifests in an undulating equilibrium. When viewed from the final vantage point, the installation will present an outward distribution of light coursing up the vertical axis and streaming out across the horizontal axes. In this way, the work may pay homage to the final bars of the 4th Symphony in which an accumulating mass of percussion and sonority build towards an expansive culmination, opening the heart to the entire universe.
Having immersed myself in meditation, nature and certain areas of art, music and architecture, and having experienced the movement of light and energy within and without, I have realised that the primordial directions of space are the centripetal, the vertical, the centrifugal, the horizontal, and the circular. It’s therefore a source of some amazement to me that this project, arising from pure intentionality, should in its final form inspire a process of meditation and move towards expressing the primordial directions.
The realisation of this trajectory, and the final experience of the work, will depend upon many factors. The latter will be dependent upon the viewer ‘reading’ the complete installation almost as an image suspended in space on a ‘two-dimensional picture plane.’ To try to lock the vertical and horizontal lights onto one plane in space, the horizontal light-lines (which will be positioned 8620mm behind the vertical light-line) will require a greater intensity. This can be controlled by the depth and thickness of the light panels. Experiments will be carried out to balance these intensities at two different depths of field. The intensity of vibration given from the blue verticals will have to be harmoniously subordinated to the crowning intensity of the horizontal yellow light-lines, and these will have to correspond with each other in a ground–figure relationship. And for the horizontal light-lines to be supported at exactly the same level, the portal bases will require concealed levellers to allow for slight variations in floor tile levels.
A full-scale model of the central work is currently being made in wood by Lincolnshire woodworker Gary Scott, and may be completed in early September. Tom Carter, of Benson Sedgwick Engineering, will be converting the current drawings into engineering drawings, which may then be slightly modified after the wood model has been finished. The central work is to be fabricated from solid aluminium and Steve Toby may start machining the aluminium in mid-September. The anticipated time frame is 8 -12 weeks.
Model in wood without curved reflective panels, for the mirrored stainless steel sculpture.
As above - side view
The final construction drawings for the portals will soon be completed, and the first trial will then be made by Gary Scott in early September. The time-frame for completion of all woodworking is 12 weeks.
Notes, September 6th – October 4th
Mirror framed light-line sculpture to be shown at The Collection Museum, Lincoln, concurrently with the First Light installation at Lincoln Cathedral.
As this sculpture has been developing, I’ve been thinking about the process from which the current work has emerged, its source in meditation, and the work of other artists whose creativity I’ve found deeply inspiring.
Lisson Gallery Exhibition, 2000
In 2000 it was amazing to walk from a London street into a small exhibition of work by Anish Kapoor at the Lisson Gallery and within seconds to be violently transported into a rarified spiritual world – a world gained by the artist over time, but compressed, it seemed, into an instant of fathomless experience. The work manifested a deep spiritual vibration, with the power of a sudden blast of silence, which made me think of the great crashing silences of Bruckner’s last symphony. Here, in the gallery, powerful metaphysical sensations, channelled through the tenderly realised concrete facts of the exhibition, could be purely experienced beyond the limitations of ‘I.’
One now familiar and defining archetype of Kapoor’s work draws the individual, in a cascading descent, into the darkness of void. This contemporary trajectory towards the annihilation of ‘I’ can be seen as an affirmative and also necessary step towards self-realisation – an essential rite of passage, since it inspires a pivotal spiritual state, poised at the very threshold of a deepening connection with reality in our times.
In 2004, after meditating in nature for ten years, I took up an 800-year-old meditation which has completely transformed my understanding of humanity, nature and the arts. Through this meditation I have experienced void, and then passed through zero into an inner metaphysical dimension of surging and uplifting light and energy which rises up to and above the crown of the head and in this way, may connect you with consciousness. I now feel that neither my work nor writings are my own. When an artwork rises up through the void and breaks through the depths of the human heart, it emerges out of an unconditional love for the whole of humanity. In this way I feel that I’m only an empty channel, a non-value, and the work emerges from the practice of living and working at zero.
In 2005, visiting the Kroller Muller Museum at Otterlo in the Netherlands, I was walking along a corridor with intense shafts of sunlight breaking in diagonally across the long narrow space, dazzling and confusing the eye. All of a sudden I found myself entering a fast-flowing current of intensely cool energy. Where was it coming from? Out of a deep shadow there appeared the tall Walking Man by Giacometti. Intense vibrations of energy were pouring out of this work – I felt as though I was standing in a fast-flowing river. An unworldly peacefulness swept over me. Why, I later wondered, was Giacometti’s work from 1944 - 52 so powerful a channel for universal energy? During these years his work revealed that if the human body is to be given a true likeness in bronze – and as bronze is denser than the human body – the representation in bronze must be violently compressed, and then the feeling is the same. But uncannily, this violent transformation also seems to evoke the inner subtle dimension of rising energy within the human body, which in these sculptures emerges from the obliteration of identity.
In the western visual arts for centuries, the human body has been the ‘figure’ and the background of a painting, or the space around a sculpture, has been the ‘ground.’ In meditation I’ve discovered that over and above our physical body, we have a metaphysical or subtle body which I believe mystics such as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing were familiar with, it is our fundamental being, our immutable inner nature, and it is pure energy.
I feel that through meditation the true relationship between this subtle body and the physical body has revealed itself. In my workshop, there is a small symmetrical maquette with narrow vertical convex stainless steel frames, which enclose a central vertical line of light. Viewed from several feet, the severely attenuated reflection of the body, with diminished identity, merges into the dark mirrored background, itself becoming the ‘ground,’ while the radiant central light-line overwhelming the entire field of dark reflection, emerges affirmatively as the true ‘figure.’ In this elemental formulation, light accedes to the status of ‘figure’ and transforms the body and identity into ‘ground.’ Against the ‘ground’ of many previous experiences, explored in earlier formulations, this is the ‘figure’ I had been instinctively searching for. This is the ‘figure’ which is above the ‘ground’ of all experience, it is the figure Rothko was searching for, and the figure which Barnett Newman intuited. At the deepest level, it is the figure we have an intense desire to experience.
September 10th, Visit to Benson Sedgwick, Dagenham
Benson Sedgwick have been continuing to work on the mirror framed sculpture – the cylindrical radiuses have been milled and the light sink at the top of the work has been machined. Since this visit, the side and base frames have also been machined. The task of assembling the internal parts of the frame sections, designed by Tom Carter to avoid external bolting, was extremely difficult, as it involved fitting together intricate parts with a multitude of angles.
Steve Toby working on the mirror framed sculpture at Benson-Sedgwick. Both images by Tom Carter
This sculpture will be set on a 575mm high stand and have a narrow vertical convex mirror which itself rises to almost 2m in height. The body reflection experienced from 1.7m will occupy the lower half of the mirror. The light-line will extend the full height of the mirror, and when standing before it, your severely elongated reflection will be shot through by an incandescent yellow-orange stream of light coursing the central axis of the body, reaching up through the head and continuing into the space above. The experience revealed even by the small maquette shows that iridescent light can override both the image of the body and the identity of ‘I.’ Developed out of meditation, this sculpture, as a contemporary formulation, may present an apparently timeless experience of our relationship with the universe, not revealed in intellectual terms of ideas, concepts or theories, but at the ancient elemental level of light and energy.
Natural light will flow through this dual-faced work to present optical opposites, giving polarised experiences of absorbed and transmitted light. Such simplicity is hard won and its development has not been without major optical and engineering challenges. I continue to be deeply indebted to Benson Sedgwick who at every stage have shown such sensitivity, ingenuity, and tenacity in facing and resolving these seemingly intractable challenges. The work is on course for completion in mid-December.