Works representing 40 years of Ernest Edmonds’ practise have been selected to create an overview that shows an intense interest in research of aesthetics in light, and image making. They are not hung chronologically, which would make sense for an artist who goes back, revisits and reworks. As a result there is a bit of cross-referencing to do and as a viewer I am led back and forth eager to look and learn.
Originally a painter whose training comes from within the British Constructivist movement of the 1960s, Edmonds began using algorithms to help make aesthetic decisions, the first pieces dating from 1968.
Paintings were made in response to digital works but then the digital solutions eventually became the medium. For the artist this was a breakthrough, ‘like the move from tempera to oil paint’. The work evolved into painting that is not about paint.
The first piece I encountered was in the entrance of the gallery, Colour Net, which is connected to the work projected on the window outside. The images we see on the screen are Edmond’s, however, Sean Clark has designed an app that allows visitors to interact with and change the way the image appears on the screen. As a result it will be evolving throughout the show.
There are a number of responsive works in the show. Below the screens a tiny camera feeds back movement to a programme. I am affecting it as I move in to examine the colour, it senses my movement- the image moves, flickers back, interrupting my view, it is looking back!
The most impressive of these is the specially commissioned light sculpture, Shaping Space, 2012, that fills the second gallery. Again, the cameras analyse audience movement, which subtly affect the pink and red shapes on the two screens. Events are set in motion, in time, not to be undone but will go on to influence the way the next set of events – movements are received/interpreted and used to create the light/colour shapes. Like a primitive eye reading the environment – this artwork flickers into live and lives. It is like a person storing up a lifetime of experience – taking every interaction with it. It is beautiful.
As a painter, I must confess that some of the work rubbed me up the wrong way just a bit. It reminded me of the first time I looked closely at a Mondrian and was disappointed by roughly painted edges. Jasper A and B illustrate the point made about needing a new medium. Looking at the awkward gaps between the painted forms, it is clear that paint just isn’t working anymore. I can see the appeal of moving from static to time based work. The video work Jasper, 1988 delivers the same set of overlaid squares in motion with more success. The risks are greater though; if you don’t programme well, the whole thing falls apart!
Looking around, I become aware of gaps in my art history knowledge, particularly around computer art and the British Constructivist movement of the 1960s. Why did I not know about this? As if aware of this gap, Site Gallery is seeking to put Edmonds’ practice in context, make it known and appreciated in the scheme of tech developments and, most importantly, Contemporary art (see the very useful timeline on the wall).
It feels like an important work for the reason that digital technology is something we now take for granted. This show attempts to highlight these developments, from the code being punched out on cards and handed into an expert with a room sized computer– to anyone who has a smart phone, being able to create sound and image and getting it published in a matter of minutes.
On top of all this, it is a beautiful exhibition; the space is clean and bright emanating beauty, colour, light and order. Not to be missed!
Ernest Edmonds – Light Logic is on display at Site Gallery, Sheffield until 2 February 2013.