I went to see the Dan Flavin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery on Tuesday.
Every piece consists of his arrangement of flourescent lights. The tubes are from a narrow range of colours, a narrow range of lengths. Flavin was influenced by the Constructivists, an artistic movement that grew up in the years just after the Russian Revolution, which mad repeated use of a relatively small set of simple elements, which they combined in different ways.
The flourescent lights provide all the light in the gallery: there is no other sources of light in the exhibition apart from the art (well I did spot a couple of lights on the stairs that must have been there for safety reasons). In fact the Hayward haven't just switched off their own lighting, they have totally removed all their lighting: their are no other lights to be seen. You walk around the gallery bathing in the light of Flavin's art.
The experience started to twig with me when I realised that the walls were different colours depending on where you were looking at them from:. Flavin was painting the walls with his lights. I didn't just have to look at the arrangement, shape, and colour of the tubes themselves: I could look all around me at the colours and the luminescence that I was walking in.
A lot of the pieces are entitled 'monument to' . I found that moving. Flavin is quoted as saying that in calling them monuments he was being ironic because his light tubes don't last anywhere near as long as your traditional stone monument.
Flavin was creating light sculptures which he is dedicating to people: some people he knows, some dead, some alive, some he doesn't know like the Soviet Constructivist V.Tatlin. And he does multiple different monuments: so we think of one main monument someone, but here is Flavin doing 50 monumebts for Tatlin, each composed of a small number of white flourescent tubes, each monument different from the other, different shape, different disposition.
It reminded me of that religious instinct to light candles in a flickering memory to people (as in my wife's Greek church). And I have since learned that Flavin had trained to be a Catholic priest before starting his career as an artist, and had studied Byzantine icons.
Flavin's monument Tatlin is interesting because Tatlin is most famous for designing a monument that was never built, a monument to the Third Socialist International. Well it was never built in Moscow where Tatlin intended. I remember the Transport and General Workers Union had a small one built on the PierHead in Liverpool which my grandad used to take Lucy and I too: I wonder what happened to that: does anyone else remember it?