press release

Light is often thought as being comprised of the single colour of white. However, white light, when observed through a prism, actually consists of the full spectrum of colours. PRISM: The art and science of light is an exhibition of Irish and international artists that takes as its starting point Isaac Newton’s observation of the visible spectrum, exploring light and the ways in which it has been used as an artistic medium.

Mark Joyce uses his knowledge of lenses, spectroscopes and other instruments to create works that illuminate fundamental aspects of light, with his abstract paintings making reference to Newton’s colour wheel as well as to modernist painting. David Batchelor's practice has long investigated the luminescent qualities of colour. A hanging bundle of low-energy bulbs encased in plastic gently illuminates a gallery window with the colours of the spectrum, while Glowstick 7 is a vibrant and sharply angular composition of coloured light. Emer O'Boyle's installation is inspired by Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin who discovered the constitution of stars in 1925. Her chandelier of 603 coloured test tubes, each inscribed with the individual signature of University College Cork staff and students, reflects the university's commitment to gender equality in the sciences.

The spectrum is vividly represented in artworks that look at the effects of colour on optical perception. Polly Apfelbaum's Hudson River Valley Nirvana refers to the sublime natural surroundings depicted in early American landscape painting and to the transcendental qualities of pure colour, while her new work here comprises an installation of rainbow-coloured discs, scattered across the gallery walls and recalling both planetary orbs and colour wheels. Diana Copperwhite's densely layered, abstract paintings offer a more psychological take on perception, focusing on how we process information and formulate reality, by drawing on personal memory, found imagery and fleeting, fragmentary impressions.

Much like the spectrum of colour that becomes visible when white light is filtered through a prism, Grace Weir's film installation uses a single artwork to present an array of historical and scientific associations. A reflection on light weaves together instances pertaining to Irish modern artist Mainie Jellett’s painting Let there be light, from its hanging in the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin to photographs of her old apartment to her grandfather's scientific notebooks on polarised light.

Artists are often at the forefront of new technologies, and light-emitting diodes, invented in 1962, have been utilised by several contemporary artists. The American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer is renowned for her text-based "truisms," represented here in a column of alternating blue and white LED displays. In Dennis McNulty's Running up that building, a sheet of foil-backed plasterboard sits against the corridor wall, its reflective surface drawing the viewer in to witness a subtle message transmitted through LED. In James Clar's Triple Oscillation, overlapping lines of coloured light create a kaleidoscopic spatial looping pattern, suggesting a continuously unfolding form.

The graphics of a computer screen are generated through a different spectrum—red, green and blue—operating in different combinations and intensities. Alan Butler's images take their form from the ubiquitous landscape photographs that accompany computer operating systems, with the pixels of digital imagery transferred into colours from the optical spectrum. In Brigitte Kowanz' sculptures, language and text are represented as neon signatures installed in mirrored glass cases. Youtube 14.02.2005 references the date of the website's establishment, acknowledging the internet's role in transforming notions of physical presence and virtual space, while Immersion II points to the destabilisation of perspective through the text's infinite reflection and repetition.

An extensive programme of curated events, talks, art courses and workshops takes place throughout the exhibition run.

PRISM is supported by University College Cork, The Arts Council Ireland, and private philanthropy through Cork University Foundation.

Artists: Polly Apfelbaum, David Batchelor, Alan Butler, James Clar, Diana Copperwhite, Jenny Holzer, Mark Joyce, Brigitte Kowanz, Dennis McNulty, Emer O’Boyle, and Grace Weir

Curated by Chris Clarke and Fiona Kearney in association with the Irish Photonic Integration Centre at the Tyndall Institute, UCC