Peter Coffin’s latest installation is a dazzling, walk-in rainbow. Suspended between floor and ceiling, seven glowing neon lines span the colour spectrum: red and yellow and green and blue… and so on. You have to tread carefully: the neon lights are as spindly as icicles, their radiance intense against the otherwise dim art space. At the packed opening of his current show, Cosmology +1, the bodies of gallery goers negotiating these strands of gas and glass, made a dense shadow play on the walls. More than a visual experience, this is colour getting physical.
Perceptual gambits have long been of interest to the California-raised, New York-based artist, whose New Age-y work resonates with a West Coast vibe. In other earlier projects Coffin has had sound artists play music to plants, dabbled in aura photography and sent a UFO over the Baltic Sea. Here, the untitled neon work is paired with photographs of multi-hued clouds — a cute invitation to blue sky thinking. After all, who hasn’t looked upwards and fantasised about castles or cathedrals built from those floating, fluffy masses of water drops?
Coffin’s clouds however have art historical pedigree: sourced from the work of 19th century photographers including Eadweard Muybridge and Roger Fenton, they’re stock images that would have been inserted into the background of photos in the darkroom. Freed from their supporting role, the clouds both evidence photography’s longstanding, covert manipulation of reality, and provide a cue to imagining the many landscape images they’ve graced. Typically for Coffin, investigating the accepted truths of the perceived world, science gives way to the marvellous.
Peter Coffin, Cosmology + 1, Herald Street Gallery, London until 20 February.