Drawing sculpture in the dark

Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973

While I’m on the subject of almost non-existent sculpture, especially almost non-existent sculpture that might in some way be seen as drawing, it’s perhaps inevitable that Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works should worm their way into my thoughts. I can remember the first time I saw Line Describing a Cone very clearly indeed. It’s just one of those works: astonishing, engaging, playful, uplifting even. There’s something about the way it plays tricks on both eye and mind. That first encounter was at an almost deserted Hayward Gallery – it was about two days before Christmas, which turns out to be a great time to see art almost in private – in the exhibition Eyes, Lies and Illusions which brought together a collection of magic lanterns, zoetropes and other optical devices with works by contemporary artists. It was a great show. And then, there was one final room just before the exit. When I went in it was empty and, my friend and me aside, it stayed that way for a good five minutes or so.

There was an almost complete cone of light running across the space made solid by haze in the air. In a way it reminded me of the beam of light in the days when smoking was still allowed in the cinema but this seemed so solid I reached out to touch it. It’s a common response, as I soon found out when others entered the room. Standing in the beam is fascinating. Looking towards the projector one sees the smoke-defined cone from within; turn and one gets to watch a dot become a curved line and eventually a circle. The whirr of the projector acts as a constant reminder that this is film. The haze is generated by a machine. Though the means of production are visible, it’s easy to get lost in the work.

TateShots Issue 2 – Anthony McCall

This is a work that raises all sorts of questions about the nature of drawing, sculpture, film and cinema (which I wrote about for MostlyFilm last year), but it’s also a work to be enjoyed and shared. I still feel very lucky to have seen the work both alone and with others that first time. I’ve seen it again since a few times – as well as other examples of McCall’s Solid Light Works – and it’s never less than great, but that first encounter was kind of magical. The whole things takes about half an hour to complete. I think I watched the whole thing. At least once.


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