Marlborough Contemporary

Ian Whittlesea: A Breathing Bulb 6 August - 6 September 2014

A Breathing Bulb

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout August, Ian Whittlesea’s new work, A Breathing Bulb, will illuminate the gallery at Marlborough Contemporary.

A single bulb in the centre of the space repeatedly fades up to an intense brightness and back down to black. The slow pulse of the bulb is that of meditation and transformation, the light strengthening in the same way that an abdomen rises during inhalation and then dimming as it falls during exhalation. During the day it is quietly present but at night it transforms the gallery into a lighthouse, visible from the street below.

With this new work Whittlesea continues his examination of how conceptual art can directly change the physiological and psychic state of the viewer. It is an extension of his exploration of the esoteric Mazdaznan breathing exercises that artist Johannes Itten taught at the Bauhaus, the renowned art school founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar.

Mazdaznan’s cult of exercise swept through Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century and its regime of magnetic sexual exchanges, vegetarian diet and body consciousness is claimed to have inspired a bewildering variety of figures including Karl Marx, Haeckel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, H.G. Wells and J.H. Kellogg. Most importantly for this work it is said that Thomas Edison was deeply influenced by its teachings and that he named the first light bulb Mazda in its honour.

A Breathing Bulb also relates directly to a sentence taken from the writings of scientist and alchemist Isaac Newton that Whittlesea has used as the basis for one of his recent series of text paintings:

The changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, is very comfortable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted with transmutations.

Ian Whittlesea’s work is concerned with words and the ability of text to transform the physical and psychic state of the viewer. It often uses the lives and works of other artists as source material and assumes many forms: from painstaking text paintings to printed books, ephemeral posters and transient projections. He first became known for his (ongoing) series of Studio Paintings that, using white paint on a dark ground, simply name the place that another artist or writer has worked. His translation of Yves Klein’s Les fondements du Judo was published in 2009 and his newly illustrated edition
of Mazdaznan Health & Breath Culture in 2012. These texts, along with his most recent publication Becoming Invisible, have been collectively described as ‘instruction manuals for transcendental exercise.’