Pae White: Too much night, again
South London Gallery
13 March - 12 May 2013
Review by Ariane Belisle
Dissolving the boundaries between fine and applied art, Pae White’s immersive site-specific installation ‘Too Much Night, Again’ at South London Gallery effortlessly merges art, design, craft and architecture. Vectorial lines of colored acrylic yarn spanning 48 kilometers concurrently coalesce and disperse, forming an intricate web that hovers hauntingly over the exhibition space. This vociferous three-dimensional crosshatching invites visitors to enter the work. Only when enveloped in its cocooned environment do words seep into our consciousness, as letters spelling ‘TIGER TIME’ and ‘UNMASTERING’ take form. While the colossal graphics gradually ebb and flow depending on one’s positioning, the fragile illusion they create burns itself onto the retina. The space is imbued with new meaning.
Inspired by the room’s heavenly skylight, effacing whiteness and calculated symmetry, White establishes a dialogue between the artwork and the site’s unique architectural contingencies. Letters transcend their primordial function and morph into monumental constructs, amalgamating with the space that surrounds them. Left free to wander in and out of words, visitors negotiate these majuscule characters while traversing pages of the artist’s lexicon. Visually resonating with Fred Sandback’s defined idiom and Anthony McCall’s sculptural ethereality, the installation simultaneously addresses its own materiality and physical surroundings. To redouble and rephrase, it elaborates on the phenomenological experience of mass in space.
Though deliberate and mediated in intent, ‘Too Much Night, Again’ manages to retain a certain authenticity and frankness, as the artistic expression subtly points to White’s inner life and turmoil. Her recent bouts of insomnia and ensuing contemplation on the passage of time and our transient existence greatly inform the work. Serving as a self-portrait of the artist’s late night anxieties, the dark mist floating above the exhibition space simulates the clutter of the world. Similarly, the use of seemingly random words mirrors the engulfing importance slight ideas and fleeting notions take on during sleepless nights, and further points to our relative insignificance on the cosmic stage.
Emerging from White’s hypnagogic matrix of strings, a small display consisting of a stack of pizza boxes and a tattered t-shirt at the far end of the gallery grounds visitors to the present. This inconspicuous yet powerful gesture underlines the importance of process. Blurring the line between construction and installation, it serves as a homage of sorts to the team of eight technicians who spent ten days assembling the exhibition. Akin to pulling back the curtain to expose the modus operandi, the artist’s nod towards the construction process unravels the illusion created, as the work is anchored in its own physicality and relinquishes part of its dreamlike quality. Arguably, this elevation of the means to new levels of contemplation lends the show a deeper meaning.
While at first glance one could dismiss ‘Too Much Night, Again’ as vacuous artifice, White’s meticulous entwining of personal, political, cultural and artistic references contextualizes the installation beyond the realm of aesthetics. Voyaging through these layers of meaning, visitors transcend their role as mere observers, simultaneously acting as agents, subjects and participants. The journey is sure to enthrall.