Anya Gallaccio

Chasing Rainbows


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Not on display

Anya Gallaccio born 1963
Glass beads and lights
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented by the Ampersand Foundation in memory of Michael Stanley 2014


Chasing Rainbows 1998 is a one-room installation in which a rainbow appears to hover and move in the centre of a blackened-out gallery space. An ellipse of very fine, industrial and dust-like glass beads is spread on the floor. The scale of this ellipse relates to the size of the room. Two stage or spot lights are positioned in the corners of the room, lighting the surface of the glass dust from either end of the ellipse. In previous installations of the work, the beads have been a few tones lighter than the grey floor and therefore almost materially imperceptible as glass. As the visitor enters the space and walks around, a rainbow appears. The rainbow moves and changes – disappearing, re-appearing, transforming and splitting – as the visitor navigates the space. Circulating the perimeters of the ellipse, the viewer seems to be perpetually pursuing a rainbow.

The title Chasing Rainbows points to the viewer’s encounter and interaction with the work, alluding to the wide cultural and folkloric associations attached to the imagery of rainbows and the impossible task of reaching them. Gallaccio has commented:

You have to believe in it to want to see it. It is all and nothing. It is such a simple pleasure to see a real rainbow. I am always excited by it, and it is so loaded as a symbol … At certain points it was above the surface and at other moments it was below. But you had to do the work. The experience does not translate into a photograph because of the relation of the light to the floor to see the effect, so you have to make the rainbow with your eye.
(Quoted in Andrew Nairne, ‘An Interview with Anya Gallaccio’, in Rugoff 1999, p.59.)

In Chasing Rainbows, the rainbows are enclosed in a blackened-out gallery and can only be glimpsed as fragments as the viewer circles the space. Visible yet out of grasp, the piece speaks of the unattainable rather than of hope. For Gallaccio, the physical encounter with her work and the sensory and performative experience of the visitor are paramount. Curator Ralph Rugoff has commented: ‘In a sense, Anya’s artworks are events rather than objects. Or perhaps, more accurately, they constitute a hybrid combination: performative objects that enlist us in elliptical slow-motion dramas.’ (Rugoff 1999, p.13.)

Chasing Rainbows was first installed and displayed at Delfina, London from March to April 1998 and then again in the same year at Bloom Gallery, Amsterdam. The name of the work was selected as the title of a survey publication published on the occasion of Gallaccio’s solo exhibition at Tramway, Glasgow in 1999. The work was presented to Tate in memory of Michael Stanley (1975–2012), former director of Modern Art Oxford and curator of Gallaccio’s solo exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in 2003.

Gallaccio uses organic materials with unfixed and perishable qualities such as ice, chocolate, candles, fruit, flowers, sugar and trees. Her work is concerned with transformative and unpredictable qualities of nature, as in, for example, preserve beauty 1991–2003 (Tate T11829), a wall-work constructed from living flowers which gradually wilt and decay over the course of its installation. The site specificity, durational and material qualities of her practice link Gallaccio with the earlier tendency of arte povera. The significance of Chasing Rainbows within her practice is to be found in its use of the ethereal and intangible substance of light; this is a stark contrast with other contemporaneous works she made that evoke mutability from the physical presence of solid material – such as the site-specific work Two Sisters 1999, at Minerva Basin, Hull, made of sixty-two tonnes of chalk and plaster. Gallaccio has used light as a tool in other works, such as Where is Where it’s at 2003, shown at Thomas Dane Gallery, London, in which she traced the shafts of light from the gallery windows on the floor with soil and dust.

Further reading
Ralph Rugoff, Anya Gallaccio: Chasing Rainbows, Glasgow 1999, p.59, reproduced p.23.
Norman Bryson, Anya Gallaccio, London 2013, reproduced p.107.

Melissa Blanchflower
September 2013

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