Los Angeles

Brian Eno

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

The latest of Brian Eno’s light-and-sound installations immerses viewers in an environment of radiant images and ambient sound. “Latest Flames,” 1988, is a series of seven more or less discrete video sculptures—arrangements of television monitors set within structures of translucent foamcore and programed to generate constantly shifting color spectra—and an accompanying envelope of soft, melodic synthesizer tones. Five pieces are sited along the side and rear walls of a large square gallery; two others are set within smaller adjoining alcoves. The installation is lit only by the glow from the sculptures, and the gallery walls have been covered in black cloth to further darken the space. These curtains also help to deaden echoes, and the result is an environment cleansed of sensory detritus, in which Eno’s seamless, textural syntheses engender a kind of vaguely ecclesiastical experience. The sound that suffuses the space is produced by four unsynchronized cassettes, all playing variations on similar musical themes. Endless acoustical permutations flood the space through a host of hidden speakers.

The video sculptures have been constructed in a variety of forms. The Crystals consists of five freestanding but dramatically tilted geometric shapes, which resemble architectural models more than mineral specimens. Fish is a not-quite-circular disk mounted at an angle over a dark and rounded base. Little Pastures features a wall-mounted chevron shape near a box on the floor; its front has a light-emitting aperture in the shape of silhouetted blades of grass. Partially isolated from the main gallery by a curtained passageway, The Living Room is a generic recreation of that domestic space. It includes a plush sofa, chair, coffee table with vase of flowers, and a wall-mounted video sculpture, sited so as to suggest a framed abstract painting. The glowing top of the coffee table is lit by colored dimmer lights. Visitors recline on the sofa or on nearby chairs and enjoy the accumulation of gently changing emanations. This scene is more conceptually ambitious than the one in the main gallery, with its neutral, airport-lobby spaciousness. But the provisional quality of Eno’s furnishings, their obviousness as props, dilutes the ironic charge of the installation. A living room ought to be a site for social interaction; this space provokes a more isolated reverie.

The sophisticated aural technology used in “Latest Flames” seems more thoughtfully developed than the work’s visual component. Although the color transitions within Eno’s video works are lovely and allusive, the structures themselves merely hint at a fully-realized sculpture’s potent actuality. Eno has proposed permanent audiovisual environments, called “Quiet Clubs,” housing site-specific installations. Perhaps when freed from the necessary expediency of the temporary exhibition site, Eno’s work can be more fully realized as an encompassing sensory situation.

Buzz Spector