Liquid Light

8 May to 6 June 2008


Sarah Harvey – Patsy McArthur – Oliver Wilson – Kim Yeon


We are proud to present Liquid Light, an exhibition about contemporary art underwater, exploring the world of underwater aesthetics through the work of four contemporary artists: Sarah Harvey, Patsy McArthur, Oliver Wilson, and Kim Yeon.

Like a deep-sea dive into the unknown, Liquid Light ventures below the water’s surface to where light and form bend and distort, to where the figurative becomes abstract. Prior to 20th century imaging and diving technology, this underwater world could only be glimpsed, not documented, and despite occupying such a key space in the popular imagination it remained barely represented throughout the history of art. Liquid Light sets out to depict the imaginative power of this world through artists whose work merges traditional forms of art production with advanced sculptural and photographic technology.

The sculptures of South Korean artist Kim Yeon represent segments of streams and rivers or the sea-bed, captured in a state of stasis, liquid and solid all at once. They are like a magical moment when time stands still, the waters stop flowing, and the viewer can contemplate this most basic but fascinating of natural elements from every angle, glittering and shimmering in the light. Already having exhibited widely with galleries and museums in South Korea, this will be Kim Yeon’s first exhibition in the UK.

Breaking the surface, the paintings of recent RA prize nominee Sarah Harvey have all the immediacy and energy of a first impact with the water. Based on re-appropriated photographs of herself underwater taken by others, Sarah’s paintings accentuate the abstracting quality of water to highlight how processes of attraction and discovery operate: the fluid figure is both seen and hidden; it is multi-faceted, impossible to grasp; and yet it draws in the viewer towards a sensual, sexual being, enveloped by water and light.

Oliver Wilson’s paintings also focus on underwater figures, but from a distinctly different perspective: His viewpoint is deeply submerged, as if looking up from the depths, from whence his compositions take on the classical air of sea-nymphs, sirens and ancient legends. Like epiphanies or visions, his paintings seem to resonate from a cultural heritage buried deep in the Western psyche as if at the bottom of the sea, exploring in the process how the unknowable fluidity of the deep can play host to intense imaginative and poetic experiences.

In contrast, Scottish artist Patsy McArthur’s charcoal drawings emphasize the “otherness” of underwater worlds, with an almost existential undercurrent that strikes a balance between excitement and caution in the water. The charcoal contrast of black and white carries through this tension, and highlights the mesmerizing sense of detachment that comes from being completely submerged. Despite being surrounded by others, Patsy’s world is very private and separate, an intensely personal psychological space made possible by the water acting like a liquid cocoon for the mind.