Light work

Bill Culbert, Bebop, 2013 (New zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale)

Bill Culbert, Bebop, 2013 (installation in the New Zealand Pavilion in the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà at the 55th Venice Biennale)

Ai Weiwei wasn’t the only artist using seating as the building blocks for an art installation in Venice last year. The works in the entrance to the New Zealand Pavilion – held in the Instituto Santa Maria della Pietà – featured suspended chairs and fluorescent tube lights. Culbert, whose work I didn’t really know very well before chancing upon the New Zealand pavilion and wandering in (admittedly I was hardly off the beaten track here, the space was on the waterfront almost no distance from Piazza San Marco), has been working with light since the 1960s. In the work on show in Venice, Culbert used light and domestic objects to create an extraordinary series of installations and smaller sculptural pieces that occupied the space in a really interesting way.

Bill Culbert, Daylight Flotsam, 2013

Daylight Flotsam, 2013

Taking a journey through the extensive space involves skirting the edge of Daylight Flotsam, venturing across a courtyard between two wardrobes with mirrors on their doors, past the outline of a shed drawn in three dimensions using fluorescent tubes and reaching a doorway overlooking the canal at the back of the building in which Culbert has placed jars of water.

Bill Culbert, Level, 2013

Level, 2013

Visiting Venice in November, the season of the aqua alta (the high tides that flood parts of the city for hours at a time), is not without its inconveniences. After weeks of neurotically checking the tide forecasts and pondering the advisability of finding space in my bag for welly boots (I took them and put them to good use), I found Level quietly intriguing.

Bill Culbert, HUT made in Christchurch, 2012

HUT, made in Christchurch, 2012

Having visited by chance, I found Front Door Out Back an enjoyable and really interesting exhibition. Light-based work has been the subject of some major, and very successful, shows recently – Light Show at the Hayward Gallery (which included a work by Culbert) attracted huge crowds, as did Dynamo at the Grand Palais in Paris – so Bill Culbert was timely choice to represent New Zealand.

Bill Culbert, Walk Reflection and Walk Blue, both 2001/2013

Walk Reflection and Walk Blue, both 2001/2013

Use of light was only part of the story though: for me, the success of the work, and of the exhibition, was more about the use of everyday artefacts. Mundane objects have escaped their natural habitat and joined forces with the light that is Culbert’s signature material; it’s a curious alliance and some of the works are disconcerting in their strangeness. All in all, I liked this exhibition a lot and I loved the journey it took me on through the space. Very Venice.

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