Serpentine Gallery, London UK
installation, 16mm, on six screens
“The visible is no longer a guarantee of absolute knowledge.” Manohla Dargis writing about Sky Light in the Village Voice, April, 1989
In response to the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, Sky Light juxtaposes the violence of mechanistic structures with the beauty of natural phenomena. Made from within the structural aesthetic, the Sky Light installation is both a six screen flicker film and a metaphore for environmental destruction.
The footage for the installation was shot during the week following the disaster. Radiation, ignoring all political boundaries poured from the skies over Western Europe. Politicians and the media, fearing mass panic, lied about the risk of the radiation which continued to pour from the wrecked power station and, carried by the upper atmosphere, drifted westwards bathing everyone in its invisible light. Welsby, a new father, had to question whether it was safe to even take his daughter to the park.
The stormy couldscapes and flash frames in Sky Light, act as a visual metaphor for a tumultuous time, but also as a document of a lasting, and very physical, danger brought on by those very same ephemeral clouds.
The installation uses the mechanics of the camera and the projectors to produce a striking metaphor for environmental destruction. Frequently starting and stopping the camera whilst shooting the footage, produced large numbers of flash frames. The light burns through the photographic image leaving secondary images of the rotating shutter.
In the gallery, one experiences: the relentless churning of the projectors; the camera shutter slashing the sky into cobalt blue irradiated chunks; the flickering light inside the gallery pixilating anything that moves and sending stark jittering shadows across gallery wall. Meanwhile, the flickering image of a stricken winter cloudscape, ignoring the constraints of the movie frame, slips unhindered from one screen to the next, torn apart by the very same light that brings it into existence.
Sky Light destabilizes our relationship to space and time and, evokes the violence unleashed by nuclear radiation. The installation was created in a time when the clouds carried environmental warnings far beyond the borders
of Chernobyl. Over 30 years later, it calls to mind a contemporary global environmental crisis that we are only beginning to understand.
Skylight was first shown as part of the Charting Time exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London spring 1986.
Made with assistance from the Arts Council of Great Britain.
installation, 16mm, on six screens
Six portable 16mm Eiki ST – mo film projectors. Six loop carriers. Six plinths measuring 2ftx2ftx4ft made from particle board (MDF or similar) and painted white.
A room measuring L60ftxW30ftx15H is optimum. Total black out
Some sonic isolation is desirable due to projector noise.
The plinths are painted white to emphasize the presence of the projectors in the gallery space.
The sound of the projectors is the “sound track” for the work and it is therefore unnecessary to try and eliminate or buffer it.
I would prefer to have the film loops visible rather than hide them by using loop carriers. The loops are only 15 ft long and run very well through plastic curtain rings suspended from the ceiling. This refers to the viewer to the material base of the medium and increases the “sculptural” presence of the projection.
The loops get worn and scratched and need to be changed on a regular daily basis. With a little practice this takes about 20 minutes. There are a few frames of black spacing between each loop to identify the beginning and end of the loop. This black spacing must be removed when the individual loops are spliced together.
You will use your master to print multiple exhibition prints. You will need to order one print for each day of the exhibition. Each set of six loops is printed on 100ft of film. Repeat prints are relatively inexpensive if ordered in large multiples.
© Chris Welsby 2007