The artwork on the cover of this January 2008 edition of Art in America is by Spencer Finch: Sunlight in an Empty Room (Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004). Emily Dickinson once famously wrote of 'a certain Slant of light' - 'when it comes, the Landscape listens...' On his visit to her home, Finch took precise measurements of the level of sunlight and then tried to recreate the effect using a cloud of blue gels suspended in front of two rows of fluorescent lights. Finch is fascinated with light and has made various similar cultural pilgrimages to record it: heading, for example, to Ingmar Bergman’s Stockholm residence at the ‘magic hour’ when the director did much of his filming, to Time Square, the inspiration for Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, and to Giverny where he was looking for a shadow similar to the one Monet captured in the painting reproduced below. Things don't always go to plan: in 1996 he travelled to Rouen only to find that the cathedral Monet had painted in different lights was under scaffolding; undaunted, he did a piece instead based on the colours of his hotel room. The artworks arising from these trips range from drawings to sculptures and installations. Eos (Dawn, Troy, 10/27/02), for example, resembles a Dan Flavin light piece, but is designed to match the measurements Finch took at Troy during the hour of Homer's ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’.
Claude Monet, Grainstacks at Sunset (Snow Effect), 1890-91
The Art in America review by Stephanie Cash describes two works Finch had recently completed that were inspired by Thoreau. The first of these concerns wind rather than light - I have drawn a diagram below to show how the gallery installation worked. ‘For about two hours the fans periodically create a gentle, intermittent breeze from various directions and at various speeds, determined by Finch’s measurements using a digital anenometer and weathervane while standing on the shore of Walden Pond, where Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days. Viewers standing at the work’s centre can experience the approximate breeze that Finch, and presumably Thoreau, did.’ Not having experienced this work I can only imagine it from Cash's description, another level of mediation which only goes to emphasise the impossibility of feeling the wind that rippled the surface of the water during the years 1845-7.
Diagram showing Spencer Finch's
Two hours, Two minutes, Two seconds (Wind at Walden Pond, March 12, 2007)
The other work, Walden Pond (morning effect, March 13, 2007), sounds less appealing because it mixes together Thoreau and Monet, although it is hard to tell from photographs. The finished work was
'a wall collage comprising 139 reproductions, arranged in the shape of the pond, of aqueous paintings by Monet. From 20 spots around the pond’s perimeter, Finch noted the hues of the water and ice, then located their matches in the Monet reproductions. Each image bears a notation with an arrow pointing to the particular colour, and the time, location on the shore and direction he was facing. It’s a rather complicated enterprise, and visually and intellectually engaging, but atypically for Finch, it doesn’t present a coherent, unified effect.’
There was a Spencer Finch show at Turner Contemporary in 2014, which regrettably I didn't get to see. In the video clip above he talks about the influence of Turner and installs a sculpture which resembles the Emily Dickinson one, called Passing Cloud (After Constable). [Incidentally, I did get to go to the previous exhibition at Turner Contemporary in 2014 - which was also inspired by clouds, including Constable's - and wrote about it here.] Finch has done cloud studies himself, as well as drawings of ice, wind, sunlight and water. The colours of the surface of the Hudson River were his raw material for The River That Flows Both Ways, an installation on New York's High Line that could be seen last year. His website has some other examples of recent work but I will end here with a piece he made some time ago, described in the Art in America article. It sounds preposterous but also rather magical.
‘Resembling an amateur science project, an early installation that also looks to the cosmos, Blue (One second brainwave transmitted to the star Rigel), 1993, comprises a tattered orange armchair, a TV set, an old Apple computer, electrodes, an antenna and a tripod-mounted transmitter. Using these jury-rigged components, Finch recorded his brain wave for one second as he watched the huge blue wave in the opening sequence of the 1970s TV show Hawaii Five-O, a still of which appears on the TV screen. His brainwave was then translated by the software and projected into space by the transmitter. It should reach its destination, the bluest star in our sky, in the year 2956. With the ‘real’ work supposedly somewhere in the cosmos, modern-day viewers are left with a scrappy installation that belies the beauty of the concept.’