LOST AND FOUND
There was a fascinating BBC series once whose theme was instances of knowledge
that the human race had first gained and then managed to lose somewhere along the
way. Each episode featured a structure such as a bridge or some water-transporting
engineering device that had been devised millennia ago, and a team of modern-day
boffins set about fathoming how it had worked or been achieved. There are some other
lofty examples. We’re still not entirely sure how great monuments such as Stone Henge
or the Pyramids were built. One assumes that the march of civilisation is based on the
accumulation of human wisdom but it transpires that we’re very good at discarding our
hard-earned inventions in favour of the newer and shinier.
The analogy came to mind with the revival of the reputation of the pioneering light artist
Thomas Wilfred, featured in this issue. After a hiatus of some 50 years, an exhibition of
his work is currently running at the Yale University Art Gallery (and subsequently at the
Smithsonian). With the advent of RGB LEDs and sophisticated control systems, kinetic
light art has taken off over the past decade or so and audiences are unutterably impressed
by the capabilities of the technology as an art form.
But Wilfred was achieving the same breathtaking effects nearly a century ago.
He developed his organ-like Clavilux device in the 1920s, orchestrating the most
extraordinary light displays through engineering ingenuity, a profound understanding
of optics and a powerful artistic sensibility. As James Turrell says in the companion essay
to the feature, a work by Wilfred provided a seminal moment for him when a boy visiting
MoMA. Having finally brought him to light again, let’s hope we are not so careless with
his achievements in future.
Jill Entwistle, Editor
15 COMMENT LIGHTING MAGAZINE
ING LIGH T ING