NY Arts Magazine

The Luminiferous Aether

August 1, 2011
The Luminiferous Aether

The Luminiferous Aether
Installation view at RHV Fine Art
Winter 2011

The Luminiferous Aether

Given the recently retreating tide of shamelessly over-hung art fairs that wash over the NYC art scene each year, it has become increasingly satisfying to find art installed in the exact environment that the work deserves. Thankfully, in the moment when our art comprehension faculties need the reparative experience most, we are provided with just such a tastefully considered show. This spring, RHV Fine Art showed a one space, one work exhibition of the established Brooklyn artist, James Clark.

Clark has ever been a student of the phenomenology of how sculptural material can influence and reflect experience. His extensive experimentation has moved through a plethora of non-traditional sculptural elements from neon light, bubbles, and scents, to video and live chickens. With the piece exhibited at RHV, Clark got a surprising amount of mileage and invention out of the otherwise mundane objects of argon light and clear balloons.


Entitled The Luminiferous Aether, the work radiates outward from a central location in the darkened gallery. Spanning the distance from ceiling to floor, including its unassuming pedestal, the clear balloons have been strategically attached to cover the central pillar of an altered argon tube. The tube both emits the light animating the piece and also provides the central structure. It seems to have been either sheathed or internally painted with a spectrum of colors, some of which have then been scratched away. The mix of colored and white light emanates outward from the tube, simultaneously reflecting off of the internal and external structures of the balloons. The result is a constantly changing conduction of light and form. This layering of reflective aura makes comprehension of the work fragmentary, excepting repeated trips to the gallery in different day and night lighting situations.

Existing in a shades-drawn gallery by day, outside light is allowed entrance into the darkened space via small rectangular holes cut out of the shades covering the gallery windows. Viewed through these openings from the outside of the gallery, the argon tube appears suspended in a darkened void. As the viewer continues to look, more and more details dissolve into focus from the argon shaft outward. Streaks of light align to describe clear ovoid volumes as balloons become apparent. They find their arrangement on the tube, surrounding it in a huddled bulbous mass. Once inside, ghostly figures of pedestrians and passing cars float in and are sucked through the reflective matrix before dissipating beyond our view, refracted deep within the structure of the work.


At night, taillights bounce in and make cascading circular trips around the internal and external surfaces of the balloons. The prismatic nature of the piece shines brightly, unencumbered by competition with the washing nature of bleeds of sunlight. Local light is bent into arcs by the structure of the balloons and melded together. It constantly bounces visual echoes off of the multiplicity of surfaces, making one’s relationship to the work active by virtue of being in the same space.

Clark encourages the eventual owner of the work to fill the balloons with his or her own breath. Making the work even more participatory in nature, this also calls forward allusions to time and the notion of an aging body. Eventually the balloons will surely sag and become less full, making the structure of the piece intelligible as a slowly evolving form. This detail transforms the argon tube into a spine of sorts, the central stem proliferating information to the cognitive senses represented by the reflective nature of the surrounding balloons. Clark deftly uses an economy of means to achieve a result infinite in variation and rich in both physical and intellectual complexity. The Luminiferous Aether is as much a reflection of the artist’s confidence to let the materials work their natural magic, as it is a reflection on the constantly changing intricacies of the conscious experience. Viewer, aesthetic object, and environment are here inextricably interwoven, wrapped into the same constantly evolving experience. Given the proper setting, the experiential and perceptual interplay becomes riveting.

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