Lumen: a winter exhibition at the Crypt Gallery
The Crypt Gallery at St. Pancras Parish Church hosts a rolling programme of exhibitions, and has become known as one of London’s coolest venues for self-funded shows mounted by artist collectives. This December I just had to see the first of a series of shows by Lumen, a collective founded by a group of artists with an interest in light and astronomy, including some of my old Art & Science classmates from Central Saint Martin’s . The dark and atmospheric ambience of the Crypt with its labyrinthine passages and surprising little niches and chambers complemented Lumen’s light-based prints and installations, and inspired the curation of some serendipitous surprises for the viewer.
The joint curators of Lumen were Melanie King and Louise Beer, both of whom graduated with me at Central Saint Martin’s in 2013. I have been somewhat familiar with the development of their respective practices over the last eighteen months – it always is interesting to follow the career trajectory of one’s colleagues in what has to be one of the most difficult and insecure professions around, with a very high drop-out rate. Those who keep going have to be tenacious, resourceful, hardworking, rigorous and creative in the conception and realization of their work, and equally creative in promoting it. Curation and academic research are an integral part of the practice of many fine artists today. To my mind, a well curated show reads like a library of complementary resources, building up a narrative focussed around a specific set of concerns, stimulating the senses and the imagination. The overall curation of Lumen worked well in this sense, showcasing some very well-conceived and complementary individual bodies of work. I had a chance to converse in some depth with some of the participating artists:
Louise Beer’s work (featured image and below) is about capturing pure light, creating elemental images that evoke the gravity of the cosmos. In her own words, Louise seeks to express the cosmic element of light as an “unsympathetic, omnipresent entity”, and approaches her work as a “contemplation of its mystery”. Like most of the Lumen artists, Louise Beer’s work is process-driven – the mechanics of these beautiful photographs are set up as dark-room installations with controlled light sources; the light is captured using slow-speed photography and manual manipulation of the camera over several hours. The images she produces are a direct record of this process, with no post-production.
Melanie King presented a series of photogravures of celestial bodies from her “First Light” series. Many of the original images come from archival collections. Melanie’s research “…focuses on the parallel histories of photography and astronomy since the nineteenth century, questioning whether the study of light led to the invention of photography…”
Much of Melanie’s work is experimental, exploring and manipulating pioneering and pre-digital photographic processes, which she explains as a fascination with “… the materiality of light affecting matter and so I often use traditional photographic printing processes such as cyanotype, salt printing and photogravure in my work.”
Constanza Isaza Martinez & Andres Pantoja are London-based photographers who run workshops dedicated to historical and alternative photographic techniques. Constanza’s “Prussian Blue” (cyanotypes) and “Silver Salts” series draw inspiration from research into the history of the photographic medium itself. The images are made without the use of cameras or negatives – they are an involvement with the photographic chemistry itself, which Constanza defines as an exploration of “… the expressive potential of photography, focusing on the surface of the print rather than the picture beyond or behind the surface, paring down the medium to its most essential components of light, paper and chemistry.”
The “silver salts” series formed a component of a collaborative installation between Constanza and Andres, entitled “Two Suns in One world” in which an entire chamber of the crypt was turned into an imaginary subterranean planetarium.
Another interesting collaborative installation was an immersive sound scape called “Lost Sounds of Mars” by sound artist Douglas Benford in collaboration with sculptor Rob Olins. The artists imagined a scenario of Mars as a geologically active planet, millions of years ago. Benford’s collage of sounds included audio signals from radio astronomy, water, sand and other natural phenomena – bounced of Olin’s gigantic reclaimed satellite dish to fill the senses with a wash of sensations.
This is just a selection of the eleven artists who took part in the exhibition – for more information about participating artists and future exhibitions, go to the Lumen website.
The exhibition was thoughtful and interesting, providing the viewer with opportunities to explore, discover and meditate. Many of the artists were present throughout the show, and very willing to talk in some depth about their work – something that I always enjoy. In the case of most of the Lumen artists, an engagement with materials on both technical and philosophical levels is central to their practice, which presents an opportunity for rich dialogue. The only thing that would have improved it for me, would have been the inclusion of some text panels with more background information, even though I am aware that this was a curatorial decision intended to minimise intervention between the viewer and the work. That apart, it is inspiring to see an artist-led event that works so well on so many levels, particularly when many of them are artists whose development one has witnessed over the past three years.