What Euan Macdonald does is simple: He looks in the other direction. From aboard a helicopter during sunset, he turns his camera to the east, away from the beauty, sense, action, and heroism of the closing eye of the sun. Instead, his camera captures grainy footage slipping from gray to black in nine silent minutes spent flying over fields, houses, and dim sparkling distant lights whose glow becomes almost frantic as the monstrous darkness swallows any earthly object without an electrical twinkle. Shooting this way is an act of will against the camera's desire to turn around, to where the light is, and the resulting poor quality of the visuals has a certain clear-eyed truthfulness, like the tattered majesty of a pauper's funeral. The piece is called In the Shadow's Path, and it is the best thing about Western Bridge's new exhibition, Into Black.
The show feels slight because most of the gallery space is given over to a continuing display of Paul Morrison's mesophyte, the gigantic wall painting of flower and tree silhouettes that went up for the last show, Boys and Flowers. It will remain up for this show and the next; I'd rather see something new. But director Eric Fredericksen has managed to bend it to yet another plausible context—the generative and transformative effect of light and dark on all objects, most especially those under consideration as art.
Given those parameters, it's interesting not only to consider the works themselves, but also their placement in the gallery, which has its own way of directing and blocking light. The back room, for example, is the perfect blackout space, providing the ideal environment for Spencer Finch's work of neon impressionism The Light at Lascaux. Finch recorded the light seen looking out from the cave at Lascaux onto the mountain range in the distance, then re-created it with variously colored neon tubes. When those tubes are assembled into a rectangle on the wall that's tilted at the same slope as the mountain range, you see a gleaming replication of the actual panorama in impressionistic parts that are easily reunited by squinting. By displaying the piece in a large enclosure with every wall painted black, Western Bridge expands an optical exercise into an experiential installation. (This view also references the photographic history of shooting from inside a car and including the image in the rear window.) Stand facing away from the cave entrance and see the ambient light: that's what Bill True was doing when I was visiting.
The Trues—Bill and Ruth—are the collectors behind Western Bridge, and every show is a testament to their wide-ranging support of contemporary artists. Sometimes I wonder what attracts them to particular works, and in this show the mysterious element is Jason Dodge's series of eight pieces of more or less uniformly gray—and tediously charmless—undeveloped photographic paper that was initially exposed at sunrise on the vernal equinox of this year in eight different locations around the world. Maybe to own these works, to see them change with light exposure over time, will be more of a satisfying relationship than the occasional viewer gets.
The allure of other works is more obvious: Olafur Eliasson's Daylight Map is a neon map of the world's time zones controlled by a clock that synchronizes the brightness of each tube with the light in the time zone it represents. It's a perfect piece of wonkery costumed as spectacle. Claude Zervas's Elba, a neon-and-wire wall sketch of Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides, manages to be modernistic, unearthly, and classical all at once—magnificent. Doug Aitken's silky smooth photographic diptych of the few and distant lights of the Santa Barbara coast in darkest night is in a room of eclipse images that also includes a magical Hiroshi Sugimoto nighttime seascape.
Shows at Western Bridge are always like looking at something in dim light: they're group affairs that throw diffuse glimpses, not spotlights, awakening the desire for solo shows, instigating curiosity about single artists by keeping them in half-light. I wish they'd add the occasional solo program, maybe starting with the Vancouver artists Hadley + Maxwell, who surely are due for a museum-style survey in Seattle. Their contribution here is a light bulb, upon which is projected the image of a light bulb, which occasionally makes the actual filament appear to flicker on, and plays other tricks you need to see to believe. It's a sparkling riddle about the intermingling lives of lights and objects. Encore!