Anthony McCall

Peer / Peer at the Round Chapel

The Round Chapel isn’t really round—elliptical is more like it. Built in 1871, it is said to have been the most important Nonconformist church in East London. Although you can’t see much of the place in the darkness that Anthony McCall’s Between You and I, 2006, requires for its visibility, such a setting seems tailor-made for McCall’s small-p protestant (frugal, anti-iconic, individualistic) art. The installation consists of two slowly metamorphosing light patterns projected from a rig suspended from the chapel’s ceiling—one describing parts of an ellipse that narrows and widens, the other a wave moving through a rotating straight line. But then, as McCall writes, “over time each gradually takes on the former properties of the other, while discarding some of its own.” In other words, the “you” and the “I” exchange identities, not unlike the characters in a postmodern metafiction à la Orhan Pamuk.

Admittedly, I might not have quite understood the system behind the forms traced by the projected light had I not first seen the “drawings”—mostly digital printouts, rather—at Peer. And I’m not sure if that would have made for a lesser experience. Equally striking would have been that a single set of projections produced two different types of result simultaneously, a moving drawing in white on the dark floor and a moving sculpture made of curtains of light in space. Likewise, the same motion manifested itself differently on the floor and in the space—being more easily legible as well as seeming less ponderous in its drawing form, while harder to follow in terms of its pace when viewed sculpturally. The drawing is more like an idea, the sculpture more like a thing. Probably the latter is more interesting. How curious that this immaterial manifestation has such force, as imposing as Richard Serra’s steel. I really had to overcome some strong internal resistance before I could get myself to walk through these walls of light, notwithstanding that I rationally knew they were totally insubstantial. It’s as if I feared that doing so would mean turning into a ghost.

Between You and I represents a partial change of medium for McCall. His previous “solid light” works, produced between 1973 and 1975 and again since 2003, have been films—essentially animated abstract drawings projected (like all films) horizontally. This new work, on the other hand, is projected directly from a digital file, and is a vertical projection. As Jonathan Walley has pointed out, the recent revival of interest in McCall’s project has shifted the locus of its reception from “the screening format typical of avant-garde (and for that matter all) film exhibition venues” to galleries, turning them into something more like sculpture or (as we know them) installations. While McCall’s roots are clearly in film and performance, we should not be too quick to take the point of origin as more significant or authentic than the point of destination. Between You and I shows that McCall’s work can flourish in the context that has now adopted it.

Barry Schwabsky