There remains something amazingly dramatic about neon light. No matter that this is based on lighting technology that has evolved over the past 100 years. Invented at a time when to light space with electricity was still miraculous, exciting, and dangerous. Yet, arc, neon, sodium, fluorescent, tungsten and halogen lighting have today all but been replaced by the all ubiquitous LED – the light emitting diode; lighting that is low energy, long life and predictably safe!

It is therefore wonderful to encounter the immense spectacular intensity of raw bright white neon light that is Forms in Space…by Light (In Time) by artist Cerith Wyn Evans. This is an astonishing extravagant installation of sculpted neon tubing and wiring, suspended within the Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries. These classically styled long high barrel vaulted galleries gallery spaces, built heavy stone are dramatically contrasted by the lightness of the vast array of apparently free floating abstract neon lines. Just light, lines, white lines, forms; scribble in space? Or is there more going on that might be read, understood, or experienced?

Wyn Evans is interested in the conceptual and theatrical aspects of art; focusing ‘on how ideas can be communicated through form’. He worked with film, and for a while taught at the Architectural Association. Certainly this show demonstrates a powerful understanding of architectural space. The installation uses nearly two kilometers of neon tubing, and requires that each neon tube is suspended and supported from or through the existing ceiling that is itself a series of suspended roof lights. Thousands of threads suspend the tubing from transparent disc fixings. Each tube requires wiring brought down from the ceiling and attached at electrode terminations that glow turquoise blue. Intense bright white energy is contained with cool glass tubing. Does it matter that actually this is not neon, but cold cathode filament lighting that through phosphor coatings, gases and electoral ionisation produces an ultraviolet light?

Forms in Space…by Light (In Time) is a powerful attractor. It successfully surprises delights and engages an unsuspecting audience, here at Tate Britain for the ‘proper’ comforting art of painting, and David Hockney. Phones lifted in homage for that irresistable Instagram picture… ‘Neon’ lives on.

Tate Britain

Cerith Wyn Evans