Sunlight drifts across a set of white blinds in dappled patterns as if it had been dispatched from a stellar heaven but then held in check by dense, dark foliage — until those boughs and branches are intermittently shouldered aside by soft breezes. Seeing this play of light is such a quintessential experience of late afternoon summer in a succulently green place that I can almost smell grass and hear the rushing of the wind through leaves. And now I am a boy again, curled on my bed by my window sill, basking in that daylight, watching the leaves on the tree just in front of my house being toyed with by the moving air, and the light, here and there, gurgling through.
But there is no sun visible in the sky at 5:30pm when I visit bitforms gallery. It is the deep dark of winter, thus the sun set some time ago. It is cold. I am surrounded by concrete, glass, plastics, iron, and steel. Yet, standing in the small antechamber at the front of the gallery, the branches and boughs still shift and sway, and the light that makes it through quietly mesmerizes me. The artwork “New Dawn” (2017) really is only fiberglass and brass, fitted with some clever electronics and LEDs, and it’s profoundly sad that this work is so convincing. This piece of technological fool’s gold, created by the UK-based practice UVA, is precisely the kind of work that we will look to make and share once we have thoroughly laid waste to the planet and become even more enmeshed in the global matrix of abstracted electronic participation. At that point, most of what the world will have access to is this kind of simulacra, rather than the lived experience.
“New Dawn,” which is a part of UVA’s Counterparts exhibition, is not merely a harbinger of the coming ecological dystopia; it anticipates what our art will look like when enough glacial ice has melted to cause the majority of the Nile Delta to sink underneath seawater, and temperatures rise so high that entire regions of the planet become uninhabitable for us. It is this kind of art that will touch our nostalgia at the bone, helping us recall the time when we looked around us, at every place that sunlight reached, and thought that summer would last our entire lives.