When a wavelength of light is within the visible perception, individual hues are seen. Since our bodies require color (light) to be healthy it is no wonder the attraction is so strong. More people are diagnosed with depression that live in areas of less natural light than those who live in sunny regions. Ancient Egyptians used color to treat and heal the body by fracturing sunlight through portals in walls. When we are deprived a full spectrum, the cones in our eyes will reflect color this is not in front of our eyes, but within our brains as a way to balance the inadequacy. (I provide an example of this when I discuss Kusama’s work below.) Ultimately, these three artists offer up drinks for which we innately thirst.
Of course, they don’t do this in the same way. Start with Robert Irwin- His most recent work uses varying temperatures of florescent bulbs, dressed in color gels that play off one another and respond when a person’s movement alters the light in a room. For Irwin, light is both his medium and his object. In his installation titled Excurses: Homage to the Square3 at Dia:Beacon in Upstate New York (through May 2017), the light from his florescent tubes is diffused through scrims, like tempting ghosts. We find ourselves wanting to seek out, get closer, and taste the hum they shoot into our retinas. We wander through his meticulously made, translucent rooms passing silhouettes of other bodies also moving through the haze.
At first blush, Yayoi Kusama’s works appear busier with their obsessive patterns than Irwin’s, but in fact, the shape of a circle as it is repeated and minimized to polka-dots cancels out exterior shape. Step into Universal Order (Installation Centre Pompidou, Paris) and you’ll see a simplification through camouflaged edges so the overall space is reduced to a singular form. Within that form, the optics of each dot plays with our eyes causing visible vibrations. Blink and move your gaze to a blank area or keep your eyes closed and you will see the illusion of green, the compliment to Kusama’s most dominant palette of red on white. This is a phenomenon that occurs within our physiology as our bodies thirst for color balance.
With Irwin we are immersed in light and like a feather brushing across our skin, our senses are heightened. An awareness of self intensifies in relation to the illuminated change in surroundings. With Kusama we are immersed in pattern and “obliterated” through an “absoluteness of space”- words that Kusama has used to describe her work. In her Infinity Mirror Room, (Tate Modern, London 2012) we are reduced to becoming the particles from which her dots emerged. We are reduced, through infinite repetition, to nothingness.
“Nothing” is how some have interpreted Irwin’s rooms, as in having seen or experienced “nothing” when stepping into one of his extremely minimal site-conditioned installations because they simply didn’t slow down enough to pay attention. But for Irwin who studies the nuances of perception, “nothing” is everything. For Kusama, however, everything is nothing.
From here I look to the previous fifteen years of Maxwell Hendler’s two-dimensional panels of translucent color. His laborious process of sanding, buffing and polishing their resin surfaces to perfection provide a means by which light waves can penetrate, bounce around infinitely and splash into our faces in lapping waves of seduction. The assault is soft and mesmerizing and I feel I can stay for a long time, immersed in translucent color where sound is reduced to a gentle buzz. The elixir is everything I want.
How “nothingness” relates to Hendler is in how each resin painting is reduced to nothing but an isolated section of a whole color spectrum that is seemingly outside our typical perception- nothing but a single, saturated hue that could have plucked from the sun. And there in that isolation is where the perception of anything lies.