Let it shine

Exhibit questions perceptions of its viewers

Erin Shirreff’s exhibit toys with the idea that an object will always remain the same, but our perception of it is subject to change at any moment given the lighting in the space.
Erin Shirreff’s exhibit toys with the idea that an object will always remain the same, but our perception of it is subject to change at any moment given the lighting in the space.
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Step into Erin Shirreff’s Available Light exhibit and you’ll leave with an ostentatious realization about the tricks of illumination.

In the Contemporary Feature Gallery at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, you’ll find light as the primary agent in changing your perception of what you see.

The trickery of lighting highlights Shirreff’s usage of epistemological themes through her minimalist sculptures, video projections and photos on the walls of the gallery.

The first sight that caught my attention was UN2010, a loop video that showed the scene surrounding the building in downtown New York. The scene was still, except for the slow transitions between shadows and sunlight.

The same scene purveyed a different mood five minutes later, although none of its physical properties actually changed. One minute the scene of the national building was a welcoming blue sky, but with the change in day lighting, the next minute it was a gloomy dark green and black scene. It made me question how my observation of the building could have changed so quickly just because of an adjustment in the colours of the lights.

The ash sculpture in Shirreff’s exhibit, called Untitled, was enveloped in light shining from the ceiling. It occurred to me that the bright artificial lighting gave the sculpture a more upbeat feeling when the artist may have intended it to be something different given the time when she created it.

It was this piece that went a long way to prove Shirreff’s point. She chose minimalist structures and video projections to show that the art isn’t in the eye of the beholder, but in the light.

After I’d been in the gallery for 20 minutes, a video of a full moon, no bigger than that of a kiddie pool, was suddenly projected on the wall in front of me.

The moon was full up close, but its features appeared different based on changing lights in the video projection that created shifting shadows. Before this, I had never stopped to think that the moon we stare at every night may have different faces depending on what kind of light you were to shed on it.

Shirreff’s exhibit painted a clear line between the objects and the viewer’s perception of them.

Whatever I saw in that exhibit was truly defined by whatever “available light” in the room allowed me to see. The objects remained the same — what changed was the lights around them.

Erin Shirreff’s Available Light is on exhibit in the Contemporary Feature Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Jan. 27.

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