Paul Chan’s complete series “The 7
Lights,” offers a unique occasion to explore the practice of a New York-based artist whose work engages such fundamental themes as politics, poetry, war, death, and desire. Begun in 2005, Chan’s ambitious cycle combines obsolete computer technology with hypnotic imagery to create a series of enigmatic encounters with light and darkness. In the title, the word “light” has been struck through, drawing attention to its dramatic absence.
Presented alongside a selection of works on paper, older videos, and a new projection, the
Lights create a vast image of cyclical destruction and rebirth, spread across floors and walls like light falling through windows. Structured over the course of a day, each of the Lights begins peacefully, with the warm colors of dawn. Slowly the atmosphere changes: silhouettes of objects rise up through the air and are dismantled by obscure forces, while human shadows plummet towards the ground. Like a dream deteriorating into a nightmare, the sequence becomes increasingly horrific until it fades to dusk and peace returns, waiting for day to break again.
Just as a shadow cannot fully describe the object from which it emanates, “The 7
Lights” convey a narrative that is inevitably incomplete, yet rich with historical references, including ancient Greek mythology and Baroque painting. “The 7 Lights” can also be related to Biblical accounts of the origin of the world and its impending end, suggesting a possible reading of Chan’s cycle as an allegory of the seven days of creation. Furthermore, Chan’s work calls to mind contemporary tragedies such as 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the ongoing eruptions of terrorist violence around the globe. Unfolding like a present-day Last Judgment, a subjective and anonymous hand decides what rises and what falls; touching on the viewer’s own fears, the result is not as one might have imagined – worthless objects ascend while human life is cast aside like rainfall. However, caught as they are in an endless repetition, the Lights suggest that perhaps there is no end, just an eternal beginning. [Extract : New Museum]