United Visual Artists: Momemtum

Outside the Curve, I was greeted by a cheery Barbican attendant. He explains that we are about to enter a very dark disorientating space. ‘The installation distorts your perception of time and space’ he announced with a chuckle.

He asks if I have asthma because the space is filled with a cloud of smokey gas. ‘Don’t worry about breathing it into your lungs’ he says, and explains that it’s perfectly safe, ‘United Visual Artists are the people behind the shows for Massive Attack’. Luckily, I know who Massive Attack are or this could be heavily portentous start to my visit.

Entry is through a double set of thick black curtains, keeping the light out and the smoke in. My eyes quickly adjust to the space and I descend a short flight of stairs into the installation.

Momentum is a series of 12 light pendulums. Each is programmed independently (with sound and light) to interact with the space it is in.

the party turns to a slow-motion rave, people are silhouetted against a strobe, pulsing at six or seven beats per minute. It is perfectly in time to the ponderous gallery dance that we have all assumed.

Michael Smith

At first I can only see a couple of the lights (the curve obscures the others). My immediate feeling was one of calm. The relatively narrow confines of the Curve seem to expand into the blackness. The gentle rhythmic swing from pendulums of light rings, are like incense burners in a vast cathedral. I’m aware that there are other people there but they disappear into the dark.

I edge forward, at art gallery pace, and more lights reveal themselves. The mood gradually changes, each illumination turns to a spotlight, and the movement which felt like a natural swing now feels forced and mechanical. People emerge from the shadows. They aren’t being sought out by the urgency of prison security, they are walking into the beams, like an alien abduction. I take my turn to be bathed in the glow. It scans me and moves on. I keep shuffling.

As I continue around, I’m struck by another feeling. Now in the middle of the space, I’m aware of pockets of people sitting on the floor, against each wall. I’m transported back to the house-parties of my youth. I’m wandering into smoke-filled rooms, scanning for people I know, picked out in the light of a dimmed 20 watt lamp.

Then, the party turns to a slow-motion rave, people are silhouetted against a strobe, pulsing at six or seven beats per minute. It is perfectly in time to the ponderous gallery dance that we have all assumed.

By the end of the arc, looking back, the pendulums are now swinging again in perfect harmony like a ticking clock marking the end of my time in the space.

As I stepped out through another set of double curtains, there was no cheery attendant to reacclimatise me to the Barbican’s brutality, in many ways, emerging from the Curve was more disorientating than going in.

In many ways, Momentum is the perfect piece of conceptual, site-specific art – a simple idea, perfectly executed. It demands that you respond to it and bring your own experiences and cultural cues to the room.

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