It seems that, in itself, Light is not colored and that it is shadow that causes its colors; and that the Blue and the violet are in some way more colors than the Red and the Yellow; and red more than Yellow […]*
—Louis-Bertrand Castel (1743)
From the medieval times to the 19th century, many western color theories relied on the belief that colors could be explained by their appearances. The belief that the mechanisms behind colors could be understood by visual judgments only, belief that all the elements for understanding light and colors were, somehow, accessible to our senses and logic. Before Newton’s experiments with prisms and sunlight became famous during the 18th century – revealing new physical relationships between light, matter and colors – scholars were describing colors as “mixtures” of light and shadow, following Aristotle’s teachings. Visual phenomena were described according to this model that explained why some colors seem to be intrinsically dark (blue, violet, black, shadow-like), while other colors always seemed light (orange, yellow, white, light-like). One can easily imagine how – by the force of symbols, law and imagination – light and shadow, attributed to colors in diverse proportions to explain their appearance, could become the ground for philosophical or religious interpretations, the basis for using certain colors as symbols of political power, or for the attribution of magical properties to colors.
But from the 17th century onwards, a color science was developed on a paradigm shift: a physical theory in which the concept of “shadow” having an influence on light was a nonsense. shadow, the absence of any light, couldn’t explain anything. Instead, modern white lights – sunlight, daylight, flame light, moonlight, electric light – are all compounds of colored light rays: blends of radiations impacting our eyes, giving us the sensation of white when illuminating white objects. Their components are not sensed but hidden behind the visual appearance of white light and white objects. A whole new explanation for the physical causes of colors was on its way: explaining colors by invisible but measurable means – such as the absorption of certain lights by matter and the specific reactions of visual organs to light – explanation that did not involve magic but physics, mathematics and physiology.
Since the causes of colors depend on invisible mechanisms, a demon that understands and controls the non-visual parameters behind color vision can now play with a keyboard of light effects to do magic tricks. These tricks or “demos” are even possibly beautiful, pleasing and surprising. They can make us laugh, happy or anxious but in any case, they touch the very foundations of our visual universe: what if I can sense the world in a completely different manner? Can the techniques of the demon – who is neither a real scientist nor a real magician – open-up a space for experiencing, enjoying and criticizing our intimate visions and beliefs?
White light is a recurrent theme in Adrien Lucca’s work, from the drawings of the D65 studies (2011–14) where he started to use color science, pigments and “daylight” to make artworks, to Microkosmos (2017–18) an installation that will be inaugurated in Brussels in 2018, where a special white light transforms the colors of the objects illuminated by it, giving a very counter-intuitive color-blinding effect. Around this recurring theme of white light, Rib will present a selection of artworks, documents and light apparatuses about the study and the use of white light and colors in Lucca’s art practice for the last 7 years.
* Le vrai système de physique Générale de M. Isaac Newton, exposé et analyse en parallèle avec celui de Descartes; à la portée du commun des Physiciens. R. P. Louis Castel, Claude-François Simon ed., Paris, 1743.
Adrien Lucca (Paris, 1983) studied in Brussels at the École de Recherche Graphique and was a resident at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht (2010–11). Recent exhibitions include été 78, Brussel (2017); LEVY.DELVAL, Brussel (2016); IKOB, Eupen (2014) en in De Elektriciteitscentrale, Brussel (2014). Lucca teaches color-theory in Brussels at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de La Cambre.
Kindly supported by Gemeente Rotterdam, Mondriaan Fund and Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot