Dan Flavin retrospective: Hayward

I spent yesterday at the British Library’s Newspaper Reading Rooms in Colindale finding material for my dissertation. It was an incredibly successful trip marred only by the fact that I got travel sick using the microfilm machines for too long without a break.

Colindale is in Zone 4 of London which I found disturbing since I believed, as a child, that Zones 3 and 4 probably looked like post-apocalyptic wastelands (because I’d never been that far out). It is now always a mild surprise/disappointment when I arrive to find people and shops rather than zombies and ruins.

There was a man on the Tube who had used his Glade Air Freshener instead of deodorant. We have the same one at home. It was Country Garden if you’re really interested. I nearly suffocated and then relocated elsewhere.

I rewarded myself for my hard work and tube-related suffering by heading to the Dan Flavin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery.

Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim), 1977

Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim), 1977 - Photo by 8lettersuk

The exhibition was brilliant marred only by some middle aged, middle class, middle of the road couple who, when they weren’t giggling and flirting TOTALLY INEXPERTLY, were being a mixture of condescending, rude, arrogant and ignorant about the work. I dawdled and lost them after about fifteen minutes.

After a while the buzzing fluorescent lights started to make my head and eyes throb so I retreated to the safety of a toilet and calmed my nerves a little. After a while you stop being able to make out the individual colours because the lights all look white at the source – it’s the colours of the surroundings which give the colour away. A strange experience. Anyway, I followed a train of art thoughts to do with voids and geometry and inside and outside (the latter prompted by an assistant telling me off for getting too close) which I can’t quite recall now as I didn’t have a notebook with me. Modern art seems to be falling into place a little more.

I’m realising more and more that I love pictures and sounds over books for learning. It’s so much easier to remember something someone said or drew for me to understand than giving me a sheet of words and yet that’s how learning has to be done. I have also realised that words don’t attract me to things. Band names on recommendation lists or artist names in emails. Show me a picture or play me a song and I’m interested. Tell me their name and I won’t bother. Names are so uninformative. If you’d told me to go see Dan Flavin’s work without me knowing who he was I would have forgotten and not checked what he did. Show me a postcard and I’m on the next train to London.

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