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What colour is light?

Marie O’Mahony

Marie O’Mahony visits Anne Lindberg’s immersive fibre installation at The George Washington University Museum in Washington DC.

7th December 2023

Marie O'Mahony
 |  Washington, DC, USA


Anne Lindberg’s ‘what colour is light?’ immersive fibre installation provides a place of quiet contemplation at the Textile Museum, George Washington University in Washington DC.  The title of the work is taken from a piece written by art historian Patrik Reuterswärd that explores how artists have looked to represent divine light in their work. 

In the text Reuterswärd questions whether representation of the divine is even possible, but if it is he maintains that it “…should be something similar to, yet far more brilliant and resplendent than, physical light”.  Artists have reasonably struggled with such depiction, often looking to colour as an alternative.

Lindberg looks to address what is essentially an unanswerable question through the exploration of ‘impossible colours’, that is those that are not readily visible to the eye and when they can be seen, appear briefly as white located between complementary hues. 

The artist views the divine as existing in a space that is beyond visible light. In ‘what colour is light?’ the artist has brought together several thousand complementary yellow and blue threads, each pulled taut diagonally across the gallery space to block a corner the visitor cannot reach. 

The threads are fixed by being pinned to the walls against a backdrop of pale lavender pained walls.  The visitor emerges to the top third floor of the museum to one end of the artwork, then walks along as well as away from the work to gain distance. 

Detail of the installation showing each of the threads attached to the lavender walls. © Marie O’Mahony

It is difficult within the confines of the gallery space to take in the whole work that is intentional, forcing the viewer to move to different angles and perspectives rather than stay still. 

The blue and yellow coloured threads appear to vibrate as the eye and brain struggles for clear definition, creating a cloud-like hue towards the centre. Either end allows respite for the eye with sharply defined shadows thrown against the wall by the threads and pins as they attach. Lindberg intends for the installation to be a reflective experience, and the museum has invited the Center for Mindful Living to host meditation sessions there each month, one was being set up as I was leaving the gallery. 

Forbidden colour, 2022, Graphite, coloured pencil on cotton matt board. © Marie O’Mahony

On the wall opposite the installation are a series of mixed media works on board. These the artist refers to as ‘drawing a textile’. The 2D works are also composed of fine delicate lines as she lays down thousands in graphite and coloured pencil on a cotton matt board. The rhythmic process is in reference to the practice of walking meditation. Measurements are not given, but I would estimate each to be around 1.5m x 1m. 

“Although our eyes can’t perceive the colours, we feel them, sense them,” says Anne Lindberg, “The divine, likewise is unnamable, untouchable, intangible.”

The exhibition has been extended to 23rd December 2023. It is being held at the Textile Museum, The George Washington University Museum, 701 21st St, NW, Washington DC.  Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am-5.00pm.

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