Two Sublimes, Idaho
For two decades, Michael Light has photographically examined the physical, cultural and mythological spaces of the American West. His work ranges from conceptual reconsiderations of NASA lunar imagery, to aerially performative large-format works of the altered landscape.
For his fifth solo show at Craig Krull, Light will exhibit two interrelated bodies of work made from his micro-light aircraft in the summer of 2009. The first is a series of vertiginous, wall-like images of the eastern face of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Light’s monochrome vertical photographs impart both a sense of palpable physical terror in their perspective and a kind of full-field equanimity in their horizon-less balance. Made at the very edges of capability of both plane and pilot, these images are the artist’s calculated journey into what he terms the visual language of the “classic sublime;” Caspar David Friedrich, Albert Bierstadt and the nature divinity of David Brower, Ansel Adams and the Sierra Club.
The second body of work is a series of transgressive images made days later, and a hundred miles to the southeast over the restricted airspace of the 570,000-acre Idaho National Laboratory. This primary classified nuclear research and development facility is home to over fifty atomic reactors, including the world’s first nuclear energy plant and atomic submarine core. The lab’s capabilities remain arguably the most formidable in the world, and can certainly be regarded as “scientific sublime.” Seen from a height of 1,000 feet – below which is prohibited due to “National Security” – the impenetrable architecture of the scientific sublime collides with natural landscape. Shot with a very different kind of physical risk than the Sawtooth images, the Laboratory images ask similar questions about the nature of power, the languages used to describe it, and the seductions and limitations of landscape representation.
Named a Guggenheim Fellow in Photography in 2007, Light’s work has been the subject of five books, including his two most recent on the aerial arid West: Bingham Mine/Garfield Stack (Radius, 2009) and LA Day/LA Night (Radius, 2011).