Blind Light is the name of Antony Gormley‘s current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, and it’s also the title of the individual exhibit which is attracting much attention this year, an invitation to "lose yourself in light and vapour in this cloud-filled glass room that is cold, wet and disorientating".
I removed my spectacles and hooked them into the top of my shirt, then walked into the mist. Immediately my nose started running copiously and then something sharp in the air caught at my throat and made me cough. I hesitated, wondering whether the atmosphere was toxic in some way they hadn’t warned us about. I could hear other people coughing elsewhere in the mist too, but it must only have been the shock of the difference in density, because breathing was immediately easy again and I was able to continue my exploration. My skin quickly became coated with moisture and I wondered whether my clothes would be wet afterwards (they weren’t).
I’ve been in fog similar to this before, but only when driving, never when walking. And usually in Britain, although there was one memorable moment when, driving north of Los Angeles (I think it was on Interstate 14 near Red Rock Canyon but that may be misremembering), I passed through a series of canyons burning with sunshine with the exception of one which was full of white fog, suddenly reducing visibility to just a few yards. In the box of fog which is Blind Light, I was reminded of that cloud-filled canyon when I realised I could see nothing below my knees but thick white vapour. I held out my hand in front of me, and it was perfectly visible, but when I looked down, nothing. Then the mists shifted and my feet drifted momentarily into view before disappearing again in a swirl of white.
What does this have to do with nature and cyberspace? Quite simply because the space I was most reminded of when I was in Blind Light was the Coat Closet at LambdaMOO. Log on as a guest and that’s where you’ll find yourself – in a dark, cramped space. It appears to be very crowded in here; you keep bumping into what feels like coats, boots, and other people. But then as I thought about it further I remembered also that I myself built a foggy room in LambdaMOO – or rather, a foggy field, as part of a space called
_^^~^___ the fields—_____~~^_^-~~ ____^^___~~~~~~
The sky is an English grey, as if the mists of Autumn are held fast in a canopy above our heads; a canopy which at any moment might fall and surround us, billowing out to hide the stream and the trees and the tractor and the wheeling birds… until we are left alone and silent in a muffling quilt of cloud.
So Blind Light recalled my early days at LambdaMOO when every visit felt like wandering through fog yet knowing that hundreds of people were close by – you just couldn’t see them. At the exhibition, however, there was one big drawback, and that was the voices, calls and laughter of other visitors, which made it impossible to focus. I know many will dislike this idea, but I think Gormley should impose a rule of silence on people entering the exhibit. Without that, it’s not much more than a fairground ride.