A Projector And A Fog Machine Create Startling Virtual Spaces

British artist Anthony McCall’s “solid light” sculptures have received an outsized amount of attention this spring, with three concurrent exhibitions in Switzerland, London, and France. An exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery this month adds New York to the list. The name of McCall’s stateside show–Face to Face–cleverly functions both as a structural description of the work and a way to name what happens when you’re inside of it.

Upstairs at Sean Kelly, visitors are ushered into a silent, darkened room filled with the sickly sweet scent of fog machines. In the center of the room, two projection screens hang from the ceiling. Dual projectors cast thin strings of white light onto the screens from opposite angles, casting shattered pieces of what looks like parabolic arcs that eek slowly into new positions.

But the piece doesn’t really “start” until you step in front of the projector and enter the volumetric spaces created by the thin white lines. Thanks to the blankets of synthetic fog seeping through the darkened gallery, the white light becomes material, a three-dimensional element of the space. The curving parabolas create soaring walls that reminded me of Eero Saarinen; in other spots, choppy blocks of light look almost Brutalist (it’s hard not to fall back on architectural comparisons). Though I think I fall on the cynical end of the art goer spectrum; I found myself dumbly uttering “whoa” into the empty weekday gallery.

Face to Face, like much of McCall’s work, falls squarely into late-stage phenomenology territory. “The slowness of the works makes for a different kind of engagement,” he told a European news crew last year during a Hamburger Bahnhof show of his work. “The pieces do begin to change, but they never move ahead of you. They always move more slowly than you do.” If there’s some commentary here on the intangibility of the digital age, he isn’t saying so. “I find the public has very interesting things to say about it without me suggesting what it means,” he added.

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