“Is it possible to reduce cinema to something fundamental?” — this is a question British-American artist Anthony McCall used to summarize the direction of his work during a Tuesday lecture at the Yale School of Art.
In front of a crowd of roughly 30 members of the Yale community, McCall discussed the progression of his career. After making films in the early 1970s, he proceeded to experiment with sculpture, drawings and cinema in the light installations he is now recognizable for in the art world.
McCall said his artwork has been inspired by the way “a work of art could be generated in film from a single idea.” He told the audience that his pieces, which belong to the movement pioneered by 1970s London filmmakers, aim to simplify a cinematic element and present it in the form of an installation. McCall’s first artistic endeavors were films that focused on simple scenes capturing the motif of fire.
McCall explained that although the cinematic element of his works show the geometric transformations of light, his installations can also be viewed as simplified narratives. Observers, he said, can view the installations from multiple points of view, and can establish complex relationships with the depicted object. They are also able to physically engage with the installation as it changes.
“[Observers] have to move their body around to understand what’s going on.”
McCall noted that his later artwork uses light to create a three-dimensional representation of a drawing and then displays the way the representation changes over time. For example, his 2006 piece “Between You and I” was based on the cinematic motif in old films of a slow transition between scenes — a part of the old scene remains on the screen while the new scene appears. His light installation mirrors this process through slow transformations of geometric shapes, he said.
Most recently, McCall has begun to combine shifting visual images with other sensory information in his art. He uses sounds to complement his installations, adding that as part of one of his installations, he had the sound of traffic quietly play throughout the gallery in order to produce “the effect of opening up the space,” as visitors could not distinguish between traffic outside the venue and the noise within.
McCall also discussed his temporary withdrawal from the art world in the 1980s and 1990s, which is when he started a company that designed art books. He explained that technological gaps have at times made it difficult for him to display his light installations, as the trends in the art world that were dominant during the beginning of his career did not always welcome the complex nature of his installations. When artistic trends as well as the technological world caught up with his ideas, he reemerged on the art scene. The haze machine, for example, has enabled him to feature smoke in his installations, he said.
A Yale School of Art student who attended the lecture said he thinks the innovation of McCall’s work lies in his ability to create three-dimensional objects without making physical scultpures.
An exhibition by McCall’s titled “Traveling Wave” is open until Saturday, Feb. 8. at the Yale School of Art’s 32 Edgewood Ave. building gallery.