A Bright Idea

Light/Art: Mystic Crystal Revelation. At Contemporary Arts Forum. Shows through January 7, 2007.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

This group show hinges on the idea that light has achieved such currency as an art medium that it no longer need be considered strange or new. Just like oil paintings or bronze sculptures, it suggests, light works have been around long enough to exist without justification as artistic innovations.

Jesus_Cheeses.jpgThe concept is fine as far as it goes, but the exhibition, which is excellent, is far ahead of this kind of defensive generalization. Light has been normalized as a medium for decades, long enough to acquire its own canon of artists who form a set of common references for contemporary work. Light also seems to be the medium of choice for a new generation of cosmopolitan artists loosely centered around Mexico City, and this is where Miki Garcia and guest curator Victor Zamudio-Taylor really shine. The exhibit uses the CAF galleries to question the whole Anglocentric object-making art enterprise, and it does so mostly from a virtually next-door geographic location — the Distrito Federal of Mexico.

Artist Laureana Toledo was born in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, and now makes her home in Mexico City. She began her career as a photographer, and the compositional sense she gained through that practice remains integral to the multimedia light work she does now. Her DVD single channel projections, “Febrero 2005” and “Mexicali Boogie Woogie,” offer two different, complementary takes on what video can do for our perception of light and modernism. Despite the overt reference in the other work’s title, it is “Febrero 2005” that is most explicit in its homage to the grids of Piet Mondrian. The projection shows the façade of a Mexico City apartment complex in time-lapse fashion, with what appears to be an entire day passing in just a few moments. At first, the façade itself flickers restlessly as people open and close windows and blinds, but then the star of the show arrives in the form of a great wave of sunshine that sweeps up the frame, saturating everything in its path with golden hues. In “Mexicali Boogie Woogie,” the subject is the swirling neon of a slightly disembodied Baja amusement park. Sparkling colored lights whirl and jiggle to an eerie soundtrack of mechanistic clicks and thuds.

There are many other fascinating objects and installations in this outstanding exhibit, including Jake Montefu’s clever manipulations of Santa Barbara scenic overlooks, Alejandro Díaz’s wryly self-aware riffs on the legacy of classic light artist Bruce Nauman, and Patrick Hamilton’s festive, languorous light hoses.

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