Thin Air is the new exhibition curated by Alex Czetwertynski and aims to take the public on a ‘transformative journey’ through its 55,000 square metres of space. Bringing together works by seven contemporary artists from around the world, the exhibition explores the boundaries between art and technology through light, sound and new experimental media.
The walk from Pontoon Dock to Beams is like stepping through a Dystopian wasteland. Brutalist building sites sit unfinished, puddles laced with litter, weeds poking from cracked concrete. It’s like the beginning of Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy”. It’s the perfect precursor to Beams vast multimedia experience – “Thin Air” and its concept. James Clar’s “Cleanse/Mantra (110hz)” provides the first piece as the viewer is in transit and acts as a portal. Light is beamed down a narrow corridor at 110 hz, creating visible waves of light which morph colour. The sound is more powerful, as that too operates at this frequency and is known as the “Human pitch”. Buddhist mantras are often at this frequency. Its industrial hum feels cleansing as you enter.
“404.Zero” is BIG (a collaboration between Kristina Karpysheva and Alexandr Letsius (who specialise in code-based art). Space, light and noise combine to achieve this. Its interplay of red light, stark white and absolute dark, combined with noise from randomised algorithms create something truly disorientating. This is reinforced by the scale of the room, the size of a football pitch; although that is only revealed gradually in stabs of light. Spotlights run along the beams and fix on various points before plunging the room into darkness and then bathing it entirely in red. A low-level industrial hum builds with an ominous drum but does not conclude. People approach it in different ways. Some walk in and just sit down cross legged, some get lost and some even do their own commercial video shoots. Its differing influence on the viewer taps into the idea of the unseen forces that operate on us in society. The vastness showing that whilst we operate in our environment, we are seldom in control of it. After losing all sense of time. “Lines” by Setup, creates a continuity of theme. It uses light fixtures on the ceiling combined with sound to alter the viewer’s perception. The lights move from a stark flicker to aquarium lights and then a space craft. The sound goes from a hammer into bigger booming machinery that makes the viewer feel small against an impossible vastness. Blackness and then travelling down a circuit board. It goes somewhere more gentle but still unsettling. Where and what is this? Is it water? Is that the wrong question? Again, It takes you somewhere where you are not in control. It goes blue and mellows to a bassy calm. Submerged. Then a pulse of piano. Quickly replaced with an acid synth heartbeat that can’t be ignored. Buzzer and staccato machine gun fire. “Cyclops Retina: Light Barrier” by Kimchi and Chips with Rosa Menkman marks a welcome change. It has just one focal point: a wall of lights which create a complex web of crossing beams of light. It is accompanied by a philosophical monologue performed by Menkman which describes a woman in a cave trying to adjust to the darkness. We are with her in this cave. Her peripheral vision making everything a strange grey. A person trapped by the past, she seeks to “Break the Great Wall” that hides her future. Trading the eye for future vision – she wants to learn. Observations like “A crystal cannot sparkle in the dark”. The deprivation of the cave feels like it promotes philosophical learning, new ways of seeing unclouded by the influence of society – aided by sensory deprivation.
UCLA’s “Impure functions” should inspire the most interaction; But a lot of viewers become reticent about using the Module 1 camera which converts normal pictures to create bespoke digital portraits. Same with Module 2. It is designed to look like Peter Saville’s “Unknown Pleasures” album artwork but remains flat until viewers step up and sing into it to alter its modulation. No one does. I utter “She’s lost control again” into it – to see those familiar waves came alive. Then leave promptly. Robert Henke’s “Phospor” is beautiful and quite calming after all that has preceded it. It uses focused rays of ultraviolet light which then create unique landscapes on a layer of Phosphorus dust. Light slowly travels down illuminated green channels like glow worms to take on the appearance of iridescent water. The ultimate degradation of the piece its mutability feel like a comment on the fragility of our surrounds. “Banshee 2023” by Mathew Schreiber provides one last interactive spectacle. He is interested in how physics and technology can alter our perception of the world. The room is divided up via a saddle of red lasers that are pleasingly arranged with geometric precision. The viewer then walks through and interrupts/interacts with them. This produces a childlike fascination in all
that go through.
Over the span of this large industrial space, digital technology and large scale installation have been used to explore the paradox behind light i.e. how it illuminates things by reflecting off things but is actually impossible to see itself. This is applied as a metaphor for today’s society which is increasingly about the interplay of tension between visible and invisible forces. Raising the question of whether humans will lose grip over the line between our own agency and the forces that govern. The show feels like it succeeds in its aim of heightening our senses and perception to leave us better equipped to challenge our “Technological environment” and our role within it. Which is just as well as because upon leaving I have to step back into and navigate the Aphex Twin set like hellscape that is the journey between Beams and Pontoon Dock.
Thin Air / The Beams
Artist: С Е Т А П / @setupdesigns James Clar / @_james_clar Kimchi and Chips / @studiokimchiandchips Matthew Schreiber / @matthewschreiberart Studio Robert Henke / @studio.robert.henke UCLA Arts Conditional Studio / @uclaconditional 404.ZERO / @404.zero
Curator: Alex Czetwertynski / @alexczetwertynski
Words: Jamie Bryden / @jamiemacleodbryden
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Alisia Marcacci / @miabrowe
Venue: Beams / @thebeamslondon BROADWICKLIVE / @broadwicklive
Photo credit: Beams / @thebeamslondon Jamie Bryden / @jamiemacleodbryden Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko