For over half a century, this British master has devoted himself to exploring the limits of art, from a vanguard trench that fuses different disciplines.
An Interview with Anthony McCall, sculptor of light and time /
Undoubtedly, light is a fundamental element to understand human history. Our active dialogue with this ‘entity’ unfolds onto different fields, from physics to photography passing by mysticism, architecture and biology, among many others.
Few people can boast about having worked for over half a century, artistically, with light. British Anthony McCall however, is one of those who can. His long career began at the very beginning of the Seventies, with cinematographic experiments that played with the possibility of shredding time. Afterwards he would begin working with luminous rays, modelling their elusive composition and exploring their sculptural qualities, a creative flow that he would continue to develop over the course of the following decades.
We, at Sphere, had the privilege of conversing with this master, taking advantage of his visit to Buenos Aires to present for the first time ever his work in Argentina, by partaking in the exhibition “El Aleph”, at the Faena Arts Center.
During the interview, McCall convincingly exposed the rigour that characterises his work —a quality which exquisitely contrasts with the oneiric character of his luminous installation pieces. Finding an artist whose works induce something similar to altered states of consciousness, but that when talking refers to discipline, is a type of didactic oxymoron— it even reminded me of the teachings of great Zen masters through the use of Koans.
To me ‘inspiration’ is a pretty utilitarian idea; when people talk about it, they are usually talking about a moment when they grasped something for the first time, which they later describe as an idea. But in fact, this moment rarely happens without an enormous amount of preparation and thought beforehand. I look forward to those moments when things become crystal clear, when one feels inspired. But they’re not surprising moments. You hope for them.
In terms of his creative act, McCall describes it as a living cocktail of processes that comprise imagining, programming, modifying and finally, materialising his pieces.
It’s a combination —in different proportions— of all those things, actually. Certainly, I start with some sort of image in my mind and then that quickly becomes a question of drawing. Mostly when I draw I begin to find out what it is that I am making, and the drawing is preliminary to everything, really. Then I begin to research and further explore the ideas that have emerged; a piece can be quite intricate to make, so there’s a moment when I have to make a set of descriptions and detailed instructions for the programmer, and then there’s the moment when I receive the programmed material back, and I take it to the studio and spend weeks projecting it, looking at it and changing it and then it may go through another set of modifications. it’s a continuous relay of different processes that have to happen.
One of the fundamental aspects of this artist’s work is the final —and indispensable— interaction between the audiences and his pieces; something essential to any artistic manifestation, which in this case is more notable because of the diverse possible experiences the viewer can undergo.
I hear many people’s comments and their reports on what they experience and it’s very varied. Some people simply enjoy the almost tactile sensations of engaging the planes of light in the dark; some people report religious emotions; some have intellectual responses – there really is a very wide range and I welcome that variety.
And if we were to reflect on the possibility of light altering the relationship between form and meaning, McCall again emphasises the value of this dialogue between the viewer and his work:
I’m a firm believer that a form acquires its meanings from its audience -- from observers looking at the work, and talking about it. Ultimately, that’s how meaning is produced, not because an artist puts it there. As an artist I work with forms that already have uses and meanings in the world, so I’m not using light, or darkness, or slowness, or scale, innocently. The associations that are already attached, of course, get modified by my own formal manipulations. But in the end it has to be the audience who make sense of it.
So, what happens before the possibility that art can be used as a tool to induce specific states of consciousness?
I don’t know the answer to that, but it sounds frightening. Perhaps one of art’s virtues is that it has maximum ambiguity. And the moment at which art attempts deliberately to induce a feeling in someone, it isn’t art anymore, it’s control. It has to do with policemen more than with art.
When asked if he considered himself to be an artist that works with light, McCall was quick to note the presence of a second fundamental ingredient in his work:
Certainly, light is the medium with which I make sculptural forms, but there’s a second one, which is just as important, maybe more so. That medium is – duration -- the changing of form over time. This comes from my roots, which are still very much based in cinema; my forms are always, to some degree, ‘on the move’.
Finally, facing someone with McCall’s trajectory and eloquence, the inevitable question was: What advice would you give to young people who are currently beginning to venture into the world of art?
I think the only possible advice is: follow your nose.Tagged: Anthony McCall, Anthony McCall Faena Arts Center, Anthony McCall interview Faena, inspiration, contemporary art, art with light