‘Cold Light’ exhibition essay
What do you see when you look?
Do you trust the argument of your eye? Light makes the work. Inside the artist’s eye it inverts and refracts. The body places objects and makes decisions, emanations of intention that are not willed. Light is the tool used to do this, captured in the secondary lenses of the camera, then the field of the printed photograph.
Interior becomes exterior, everywhere invaded by light as a ship is by water.
The viewer’s eye meets the work in the presentation space. Light again does its work. “Io vidi”, I see with my eye, was Dante’s highest compliment to truth on his journey towards heaven in the Divine Comedy; the optical veracity of his encounters calibrating his path to enlightenment. The movement of his heart towards a fit state to visit paradise is in step with his eyes becoming accustomed to the brilliance of pure light, light that blinds the ill-prepared. So we find Gilbee’s work informed by light that isn’t homely or familiar. It’s a light that asks us to look, to question as if waking from a dream.
There is tension between the depth and the surface. The images are at times unstable, due to the mutability of scale and depth of field and the addition of lustre, the metallic and pearlescent. The printed surface is propitious, alchemically signified.
Lustre shifts its position on an object as we move and observe it; as a guide is equivocal and untrustworthy regarding the shape of an object and the direction of light.At its purest concentration lustre may conceal and distract, as the trick mirrors of myth. But in Gilbee’s work it also recalls chrysography: the Byzantine lumanism that graced the Italian tradition with a sense of light as metaphor, as affective, suffusing the viewer with holiness through gold leaf or tesserae, seeking to disperse light in perfect clarity as an essence. Light spills beyond the boundaries of such works, scattered on the floor, against our skin; more emanations.
Gilbee’s work moves beyond the Byzantine, its engagement with light as only brilliant, pure or transparent. Her anatomy of light is informed by scuro beside chiaro, the watery depths, light thrown by a black sun. It resists whole narrative but makes it too, out of ephemera. In bringing the edge to the centre, her work aches like a torn map, a scrap of text. It is not “only seaweed, only water, only a mirror bending light”. It becomes landscape, or the inner space of viscera, or portraiture. Gilbee’s visions are sympathetic with the fantastical prisons of Piranesi, the Caprice di Carcere, with their compressed energy and captive spaces, the tangle of the dream state beautifully expressed by Yourcenar:
“…negation of time, incoherence of space, suggested levitation, intoxication of the impossible reconciled or transcended, terror closer to ecstasy than is assumed by those who analyze the visionary’s creations from outside, absence of visible contact between the dream’s parts or characters, fatal and necessary beauty.”
Anna Hedigan, Chewton, 2010 The Light of Early Italian Painting. Paul Hills, Yale University Press. 1987  The Dark Brain of Piranesi. Marguerite Yourcenar, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1984
Exhibited at Latrobe Visual Arts Centre Bendigo, Saxony salon Sydney 2010
Exhibited at Galerie Pavlova (now named Jarvis Dooney) Berlin – Frühlings Salon 2014