Anthony McCall’s light sculptures make me want to play. Digitally projected lines in a dark, smoke-filled room make intangible walls of smoky white light. Once my eyes were used to the darkness I spent some time walking through these misty barriers and playing with shadows against a soundscape of trickling water and muted traffic sounds. The water sound feels close, and the traffic far away. I pictured the water like a little brook nearby. It was very relaxing. In one room a man was standing quietly, looking at the light work. I wanted to play around in it but felt like I would be disturbing him. I felt like he was missing out by not walking through the work. The Hepworth’s website talks about the viewers becoming ‘active participants’ which I usually read as art-world speak for ‘go and get stuck in’.

Two video works are also on display. Landscape for Fire, 1972, has a ritualistic, mystical air to it. Three or four people dressed in white walk around a grassy field, setting alight little circular tins set up in a grid. The orange of the flames stand out against the dark grass, the grey sky, and the white clothes made blue by the dawn light. The wind whistles and the matches flare. It was planned but not rehearsed, which is perhaps why it feels organic and very real. Crossing the Elbe, 2015, is different. It’s set in an industrial landscape, all shipyards and high rise buildings. McCall installed three 5-mile searchlights on top of buildings in Hamburg to point in different directions across the city. The video is short shots of the lights bisecting the sky in different parts of the city, with the noise of the city in the background. I was expecting this to feel more hurried, like how a city feels more stressful than a field, but it was as relaxing as Landscape for Fire. Maybe even more so – Landscape for Fire has a sense of urgency to it, like something is compelling those people to light those fires, like they have to do it before daybreak. There is less action, more stillness in Crossing the Elbe. Combined, these two works refuse the dichotomy of urban/busy and natural/peaceful.

McCall’s technical preparatory drawings show the calm logic underpinning the light sculptures. I appreciate artists who can translate cold, hard science into something tangible and emotional. It’s a delight to insert yourself physically into McCall’s light sculptures that look like three dimensional graphs. McCall’s use of light as a medium left me uplifted and lighthearted.

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