Martin Griffiths' First Light Proposal

Light Sculpture Installation Proposal – Martin Griffiths

“The first corporeal form is…. light,” wrote Bishop Grosseteste (1170 - 1253) in his work On Light or The Beginning of Forms. His belief in the primacy of light and its extraordinary, expansionary nature corresponds closely with my own exploration of light as a primary medium in sculpture. The purpose of enhancing the activity of light through artwork has been to try to reveal the power of its true nature – by showing, for example, how a very narrow line of light can defy all expectations in transmitting its presence clearly over a distance of several hundred feet. “…light possesses of its very nature the function of multiplying itself and diffusing itself instantaneously in all directions,” Bishop Grosseteste wrote. “…it is corporeity itself.”

I believe that in contemporary art, the contemplation of light can give rise to deep spiritual moments – can, perhaps, transform self-perception, giving insights into our relationship with the universe at a level more fundamental than thought and identity. But which dimensions should light be given, and how should it be presented in space? The architectural progression from early English Gothic to late Gothic (from the solemn strength of mass to the elevating power of the perpendicular) was inspired by the spiritual conviction that the transcendent could be paraphrased by the perpendicular, and in this installation it is the influence of perpendicular light on mind, body, heart and soul that I wish to explore.

The installation would include a light sculpture up to 3m. high in which narrow, convex plates of highly polished stainless steel enclose a golden yellow light-line of chromatically enhanced natural light so intense it appears electrically sourced. This is achieved by optimising the transmission of light through a transparent panel containing light-enhancing dyes, an effect which is further intensified by the receding, darkly reflective exteriors of the surrounding frames. A work of this kind would be stabilised by a 1m. square solid metal base. A small number of supporting sculptures would likewise be tall and narrow, take up little space and activate without electricity.

The proposed installation would be optimally sited in the cloister quadrangle near the west end of the north aisle, and approached from the east end. The curved, mirror-like frames of the main sculpture would optically ‘disappear,’ so that you would see from perhaps 200 feet away only a tall radiant line of light suspended in mid-air, an encounter which may have a power and intensity that suggests light breaking through darkness – communicating a sense of the first primal command.

On approaching the front of the work you would experience your own attenuated, Giacometti-like reflection shot through by an incandescent, upwardly rising light coursing the body’s central axis, an allusion to the ‘Inner Light’ of which Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328) speaks. At the same time, the darkened reflection of the body may give an aptly medieval, even mysterious feeling.

Eckhart’s ideas, which inspired my work in earlier years, have again emerged as one of the roots of the present formulation. The side elevation of this sculpture, instead of revealing the source of the ‘electrifying’ light, will instead open out, surprisingly, into an empty, light-absorbing window. Radiance on one elevation will emanate from apparent emptiness on the other, an opposition of experiences which I feel resonates with another of Eckhart’s ideas – that of the Christian becoming an empty echoing chamber which gives birth to God in the ground of the soul.

On stepping back from the work, your reflection in the convex plates will contract into the central light-stream, so that you will experience the opposite of certain remarkable works by the sculptor Anish Kapoor – instead of your body vanishing into darkness, it would dissolve into light. The viewer, after experiencing light breaking through darkness, will merge from darkness into light.

Creatively, my work has also been inspired by the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, and more recently and directly by his three Masses. My hope is that the new perpendicular light works I am developing may give rise to the kind of heart-opening and elevating experiences this music has given me. The perpendicular – which is both the direction of growth and, I feel, the trajectory of music – could perhaps be called the primary direction in the element of space. And if perpendicular movement is given to the first form, it may be possible to unify both elements in a primal experience.

It would mean a great deal to me to install these site-sensitive works in the spiritually uplifting and sacred context of the Cathedral, which would, I feel, optimise their effect. If it were possible for this installation to take place for a month in March 2011, I am anticipating that it would run concurrently with another related installation at The Collection in Lincoln, which has been provisionally agreed for March 2011.

This dual event would help support an application for funding to Arts Council England, who have expressed interest in the drafted works, to meet some of the development costs. It would also allow me to assess the quality and intensity of experiences received by the public and the influence of the work on surrounding spaces. And it would be interesting to discover in what way different environments affect the perception of the work. During the installation, I would be very pleased to give a free slide lecture which would explore expressions of the spiritual in western art from the age of Duccio to the present, and would include broad references to theological writing, religious music and western literature.

The dramatist Samuel Beckett believed that beneath the subconscious there is a silent indefinable presence that has no qualities or characteristics, and this, I feel, relates to Meister Eckhart’s reference to ‘that region within where neither time nor light of image has ever penetrated.’ I believe that light can stimulate responses which are ultimately independent of time, mind, body and senses, and can give unanticipated and profound experiences which may be in the vicinity of this ‘region within.’ It can, perhaps, even help people to experience it.

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