The light artist Chris Levine created his first lambent spectacle at Houghton Hall almost a decade ago. The Marquess of Cholmondeley, whose family have called Houghton home (actually second home) since the end of the 18th century, had commissioned Levine to create a laser installation for a private party. Levine remembers John Galliano, Boy George, Vivienne Westwood and Jazzy B – a prime clutch of 1980s icons – gathering in the grounds at 4am to watch the purple rain summoned by his laser beams. The artist is now back at Houghton Hall with an even more ambitious and more publicly accessible display.
Born in Canada but based in Britain, Levine studied graphic design at Chelsea School of Art and computer graphics at Central Saint Martins before embracing light-managing media, including photography, lasers and holography, to create art of a spiritual, even meditative bent. He is perhaps best known for 2004’s Lightness of Being, a lenticular portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as a kind of spectral force, eyes closed and aglow, one of a series of portraits of the Queen and other luminaries, including Kate Moss, Grace Jones and, most recently, the Dalai Lama, all rendered similarly luminous.
He is also a prolific and in-demand collaborator, working with Massive Attack, Hussein Chalayan and Jon Hopkins, amongst others, and has created installations and performances at MoMA, the Royal Opera House and the Eden Project.
Lord Cholmondeley, meanwhile, has established the ancestral Palladian pile, built in the Norfolk countryside by Sir Robert Walpole in the 18th century, as a major cultural draw with permanent public art by James Turrell, Rachel Whiteread, Anya Gallaccio and Richard Long set in the grounds, and a legacy of exhibitions, installations and interventions by artists including Turrell, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor.
Levine's exhibition ‘528 Hz Love Frequency’, his largest to date and sponsored by Sotheby’s, is Houghton Hall's first winter show and brings together a series of new holographic artworks, prints and immersive site-specific laser and LED installations.
The new show, though, is as much about sound as it is light. ‘528hz is the middle note of an ancient musical scale known as solfeggio,’ Levine explains. ‘The numbers of the sound vibrations on this scale are based on sacred geometry and the notes are said to correlate with the energy nodes, chakras, in the body. There is harmony and natural order to the tones. The middle note relates to the heart chakra and 528hz is sometimes referred to as the love signal.’
The centrepiece of the show is Molecule of Light, a monumental sphere, 6m across, sat on a giant tripod and set on the hall’s front lawn. At 25m, the sculpture stands as tall as the house itself and weighs in at six tonnes.
The sphere, a complex of steel tube circles coated with nine layers of UV-reactive paint and lacquer, emits 3D ‘ambisonic’ sound, notes from the solfeggio scale. By day, the sculpture, a vibrant red, seems to contain some kind of vibrating, natural energy. At night, it forms the heart of a carefully choreographed and precisely aligned laser display. ‘From the outset, I sought to align the work with the physical context – the architecture, the natural environment and the astronomical orientation,’ says Levine. ‘There is a laser locked on to the north star and the laser scanners are set to the rotation of the earth. The work is considered in relation to ley lines and is aligned to nature, the cosmos and the architecture as an atomic field.’
‘I wanted to use light and geometry to create a space where consciousness and the physical realm overlap, harnessing the power of light not just as a medium, but also as a means with which to create a powerful collective experience.’
Running until 23 December 2021, Levine’s show – designed to make the most of the crisp, cold light and the early nights – is a non-denominational and more contemplative and restorative kind of winter festival.
‘I’ve always sought to create art that draws the viewer to stillness and into a meditative state. The more the work can be accessed through the heart and not needing to be mentally processed, the better it allows for a deeper sensory experience,’ he says. ‘The time spent connecting with the work is refuge from the noise and frenetic pace of modern life; it can be calming and revitalising. And ultimately, it feels good.’
Chris Levine at Houghton Hall: ’528 Hz Love Frequency’, until 23 December 2021. houghtonhall.com (opens in new tab)
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