Lost in the Light: Anthony McCall at Ambika P3

16 Mar

This morning, I decided to visit the much-talked about Ambika P3 and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  My first challenge was to find the actual space.  It’s important to bear in mind that I’m not the most geographically savvy person but, luckily, google maps came to the rescue and I made it (although I did nearly wander off in the wrong direction – an occurrence that is becoming scarily regular, third time this week in fact, oh dear).  For those without a compass at the ready, you’ll find the entrance hidden behind a red gate on the right hand side of Westminster University in Marylebone Road (opposite Madame Tussauds). 

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It is here that the adventure begins and it certainly is an adventure, a magical mystery tour of sorts.  Head down the metal staircase, past entrances to various warehouses and loading bays until a black door marks the entrance to this unique gallery space – the biggest in London. 

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Originally the construction hall of Westminster’s Department of Engineering, Ambika P3 is now a 14,000 sq ft art gallery.  Perfection!

 A sign in the lobby warns that it will take a while to adjust to the darkness but I still had no idea what to expect.  On first entering, you find yourself on a pitch black balcony which affords a wonderful view of all the Anthony McCall works on display.  Convinced that I was going to fall Alice-in-Wonderland style to the lower level, I stumbled around as if blind (to the great amusement of the gallery assistant), arms outstretched until I reached the edge and could safely hold on.  Once again, maybe those stilettos weren’t the best thing to wear to a dark art installation but I just can’t help it!  After a few minutes my sight adjusted (and then the initial stumbling and groping seemed rather embarrassing) and I ventured down the staircase into the cathedral-like, cavernous space that houses the McCall light sculptures, Vertical Works, being shown in the UK for the first time. 

Image via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

 The works are a combination of cinema (the pieces are slowly moving), sculpture (3D works) and drawing (animated lines of light on the floor, housed in a room full of mist).  The experience of walking through the actual sculptures was surreal.  I approached the first work quite nervously, unsure of what to expect.  I felt I was trying to pass through a solid form, a sheer waterfall of light.  Hands once again outstretched, my fingers pushed through this invisible barrier and voilà…  The feeling is amazing as you can, of course, walk straight through the shafts of light but, at the same time, you feel you are being transported to a new place as you cross through the works. 


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Your whole body is affected by these giant monochrome installations.  Light appears solid.  It is intriguing to pause and watch other people interact with the works, also hesitating as they walk through the sculptures, expecting something to block their path.  Visitors were lying down in the centre of the beams, becoming part of the works.  I felt miles away from the hustle bustle of Baker Street as I lost myself in the light. 

Image via http://www.richpepper.com/blog

Vertical Works are created by projections from the ceiling which form 10-metre tall conical ‘tents’ of lights.  The floor drawing acts as the footprint of the work with the 3D body of light rising and narrowing from its projection point.  In simple terms (I’m an art historian, not a scientist), the sculptures are formed by light bouncing off the mist in the room.  Folds of light create mesmerising shapes that are truly effective. The supernatural effect gives the works a spiritual, other-worldly feel.  They have been likened to shafts of light in a cathedral, yet there is something quite pagan about them as the simple white floor drawings are reminiscent of the chalk shapes you see on English cliffs. 

Image via http://www.dontpaniconline.com 

Unless you watch intently, you could miss the fact that the works are actually moving.  Like you, they journey across the floor in a slow rhythmic pattern asking to be explored and offering visitors a sense of freedom as they become familiar with this adult’s playground. 


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Both the space at Ambika P3 and the McCall works themselves are unbelievable .  It’s a rare treat to experience something like as unique as this.  The installation is only on for one more week but do go and stumble around, journey through the room and move into McCall’s Narnia-like, parallel universe of light.

McCall is also working on an Olympic commission: in Column a spinning column of cloud will rise magnificently from a dock in Merseyside.  The work will respond to the weather around it, sometimes appearing as a white line against the bright blue sky, other times as a dark shadow when it’s overcast.  Approximately 20m in diameter, it will bend, disappear and re-appear.   It will, no doubt, be another McCall work for us to fall in love with and I can’t wait!

Image via http://www.guardian.co.uk/ 

A sister exhibition of McCall’s drawings is on display at Sprüth Magers.  Vertical Works will remain in situ until 27th March at Ambika P3, University of Westminster, www.p3exhibitions.com.

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