Using light and sound to question the fabric of our perception of the world, the sublime sometimes becomes ominous in the latest exhibition from the electro-artistic collective United Visual Artists.
Immediately upon entering 180 The Strand, I was told that the entrance to the exhibition was not in fact on the Strand, but on the adjacent Surrey Street, in a decorated side entrance. It seemed apt that, upon entering the sub-terranean exhibition, the evening would be full of questions about the ‘nature of perception and cognition, reflecting the ways we attempt to understand and make sense of the world, and our place within it.’ The “choreographed environments” that form the installations in ‘Synchronicity’ use (or more accurately, abuse) our kinetic and spatial assumptions of the world; named after Jungian ideas of psychology, of the loopholes in rationality that come from the inexplicability of coincidence, the light instalments don’t so much stimulate perception as subvert it completely. Absolved of my embarrassment, I proceeded.
What all the installations have in common in this subversion is their use of light. Whether it’s highlighting the translatory gap between light and sound in ‘Polyphony’ or ‘Chromatic’, or playing with the fear that comes from taking it away in ‘Our Time’ and ‘Edge of Chaos’, ‘Synchronicity’ takes the time to warn us of our dependency on light. Indeed, very few of the installations include depictions of human beings (none except ‘Edge of Chaos’ and ‘Ensemble’, and these certainly aren’t welcoming depictions at that); as with light, the removal of comfortable, controllable perception reminds us of how much we depend on it, and the vast emptiness—the chaos—that is left. If the aim was to induce a sense of uneasiness (the sheer size of the exhibits making this quite likely), then it certainly succeeded.
Secondary to light as a source of uneasiness was the irregular rhythms that dictated movement in many of the installations. Pieces like ‘Our Time’ and ‘Edge of Chaos’ were themed around random movements; not necessarily the unpredictability of the rhythm, but a question of whether these movements can actually be random. Indeed, in a search for solace, we may find ourselves looking for patterns, or questioning whether these movements, powered by a computer, can actually be truly random. ‘Ensemble’, a succession of computerised images of human forms, makes this the subject in question, paying homage to the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey; early attempts to rationalise natural movement with science, something that echoes in pieces that incorporate sound and light like ‘Chromatic’ and the breath-taking ‘Polyphony’.
But, with these ideas firmly entrenched in the gallery, coupled with our intuitive questioning of ‘randomness’ behind computation, is UVA telling us that art is the intersection between science, as rationalism, and nature, as irrationalism? This is a question that dips in and out of the exhibition, appearing vividly at times, as mentioned above, and falling to the wayside at others. While some installations directly confront capitalism as an attempt at rationality resulting in a return to irrationality, like ‘Etymologies’, which imitates the algorithmic gibberish of databases behind things like ChatGPT, or ‘Present Shock II’, which follows a similar track but with the absurdity of headlines, they also don’t shy away from the easy reactions that come from sensationalism. One can’t help but question whether the intended effect would be as well achieved if not for the gravitas of each piece established upon arrival. However, once this initial sublimity lifts, the instalments admittedly do not lose their ominousness; ‘Etymologies’, for example, tracks Freudian ideas of the ‘subconscious’, and the gibberish that results from collective thoughts and ideas. As a result of all this, the political leanings of the exhibition are obscure.
Perception is assertively thrown out, with feeling in the absence of explanation being of the essence throughout ‘Synchronicity’. Irrationality and our dubious attempts to understand it run throughout all eight installations, symbolised predominantly by light, be it patterned on a screen or from a single, aggressive bulb. Regardless of the form it takes, our dependence on it is painfully apparent. No more is it apparent than in the final installation, ‘Musica Universalis’. Inspired by ancient Greek ideas of the “music of spheres”, this piece uses circular shapes and motions to highlight the movement and rhythm of light around suspiciously celestial-looking spheres; a re-enactment of the shading exercises we were all made to do in primary school art classes, but on an all the more grandiose scale.
On every rotation of light around the line of spheres, there was a split-second where the sphere lay exactly in between the light and the spectator, forming a very dark, very personal eclipse. In this split second, where a circle appears completely absorbed by darkness, I was reminded of the driving force behind the exhibition: light is usually the tool we use to perceive; when the light itself becomes the exhibition, we follow suit, all rationality and grounding in our understanding of the world falling away to the darkness.
'UVA: Synchronicity' is on at 180 Studios until 25th February 2024, you can find more information on their website.
Edited by Samuel Blackburn