Anthony McCall - You and I – Horizontal II - Silhouette
Anthony McCall, You and I – Horizontal II
Stories & Ideas

Thu 01 May 2014

Solid Light: an interview with Anthony McCall

Art Craft Exhibition Immersive technologies Interview
ACMI X colourful wall

Mike Childs

Former ACMI Visitor Services Officer

We spoke to Anthony McCall about his installation 'You and I – Horizontal II', one of the most popular attractions in 'Screen Worlds' (2009–19).

In my two years working at the Screen Worlds exhibition, "Where is You and I – Horizontal II?’"is a question I’ve never been asked. On the other hand, I and many of my colleagues have lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked where the "dark room" is. Here at ACMI we affectionately refer to it as the ‘McCall Room’ (the work is by Anthony McCall). But whatever name we or the visitors call it, this particular installation remains one of the most popular attractions in Screen Worlds

You and I – Horizontal II is not the first McCall ‘solid light’ piece to be featured at ACMI. During the hugely successful Eyes, Lies and Illusions exhibition in 2006, we were lucky to play host to his fascinating early work Line Describing a Cone. This piece used a simple 16mm film projection of a beam of light which began as a small dot, becoming (over the space of 30 minutes) a complete circle of light through which a fine haze played, enveloping the viewer in a ‘cone’ of light within the dark room. Moving in and out of the light beam was the best way to fully experience this work and many visitors were visibly moved by the experience.

You and I – Horizontal II is based on the same projected-beam-of-light principle, but with this work McCall has used digital projection for the light beam, creating an ever-changing environment of light in the dark. The main difference between this and the earlier work for ACMI visitors is that there’s always something playing in the space, removing the need to stick around waiting for the full 30 minute experience. You and I – Horizontal II is one of a series of You and I Horizontal works around the world. 

Many of our school visitors have already heard about the "dark room" and the sounds of laughter, and sometimes screams, that leak from the room tell us that McCall’s work is being enjoyed and appreciated by all who experience it, even if the full effect is sometimes lost on the more excitable and enthusiastic younger boys and girls! 

I was interested in finding out more about Anthony McCall’s work and how he sees it interacting with the public so I tracked him down to ask him my five most burning questions. 

Mike Childs: How would you explain your ‘solid light’ pieces to audiences like school children who may be visiting a gallery for the first time?

Anthony McCall: A good starting point is to think of the ‘solid light’ piece as a large sculpture made of light, which, therefore, can be walked around, and walked into, and walked through. But it is also like a film, because even as you explore it, it will slowly move and change. 

MC: At ACMI we all very much enjoyed Line Describing a Cone which uses 16mm film projection. Why did you move to digital technology for your later works?

AM: I had a twenty year hiatus between the film-based projections of the 70s and the digitally-based projections post-2003. When I began making the ‘solid-light’ pieces again after a 25-year break, it seemed very obvious to use the computer rather than an animation camera to produce them. However, it took me a little longer to accept digital projection because, at first at least, I missed the audible whir of film projection which I saw as an important part of the experience of works like Line Describing a Cone. But I came to quite like that silence, and no longer see it as a ‘lack’. Simply put, I use digital media because they are the simplest route from idea to realization, just as the medium of film was back in the 70s.  

MC: Many of your works can be found on YouTube. What are your thoughts on this given that they are no real substitute for being ‘inside’ one?

AM: Those clips are certainly no replacement for the full experience of walking around or within the sculptural forms as they slowly change in time. But I accept the fact that clips will appear on You Tube, and that they do for many provide some kind of starting point.  

MC: You’ve been working on a piece for next year’s London Cultural Olympiad which can apparently been seen from over 100 kilometres away. Any chance you can bring something similar here to Melbourne?

AM: For me, Column (the piece you are referring to) is related to the solid light works, though the scale is radically different: the films consist of the projection of light through ambient mist, whereas Column consists of the projection of mist through ambient light. The project in the UK was commissioned by Arts Council England as part of the Cultural Olympiad. If there were a local commission, yes, it is possible that the piece could be realised here.  

MC: At ACMI we’re all enamoured with You and I - Horizontal II, but is this work one of your own personal favourites?

AM: You and I, Horizontal II is one indeed one of my favourites. It is one of a series of three, each of which in different ways uses the cinematic device of the ‘wipe’ to both combine and  separate two quite different forms (an ellipse and a travelling wave). In three-dimensional  space this creates a rather strange, irregular form, in a state of slow, continuous mutation.  

– Mike Childs, Visitor Services Officer, ACMI