Art can demonstrate the power of the elements – Nicholas Mangan’s ‘Ancient Lights’ at Chisenhale Gallery

There are often parallels made between galleries and temples. In this exhibition of Nicholas Mangan’s ‘Ancient Lights’ at Chisenhale Gallery, visitors are invited to consider the connection between sun worship in times gone by and the solar power harnessed by people in the present.

Chris Rudge from Rudge Energy recently installed the temporary solar array that supplies the power for this show. We asked him what he hoped visitors would draw from the work.


“I think visitors will be interested in the concept of using the power of the sun to operate the whole installation, which in itself is not a new concept; Sol Cinema show mainstream films around the festival circuit using the sun’s power to project images and produce sound. Nicolas Mangan however is using the solar generated power to operate and show his Ancient Lights art installation.

Art and sustainable energy to some degree go hand in hand, as we both usually want to tread lightly in the environment and try to preserve the world, minimizing the damage that people cause. Though of course, in Art there is the creation of new works, Renewable Energy on the other hand is there simply to create power while keeping environmental impact low.

Over the last 7 years installing solar PV systems, I’ve found it can be challenging to set up meaningful and highly visual displays to show how our PV and storage systems actually provide power for our lives; Showing how to power an everyday item doesn’t always leave a memorable impact. This show triggers and is accompanied by a wider narrative about our relationship with solar energy and is in some ways more striking. Hopefully it will demonstrate what solar power is and how we can use it with real impact.

The system we installed right in the heart of East London is typical of a system that we would install on an off grid house; It will operate all the appliances if sourced sensibly and by keeping heating by gas or wood, the whole house can be run by quite standard 4kwp system with storage.

Both artists and environmentally aware groups can adopt power schemes that use solar (for example), to power events using these portable power systems. Seeing the technology in practice can then inspire others to do the same if they can.” Chris Rudge, Rudge Energy

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Nicholas Mangan at Chisenhale Gallery in London

Ancient Lights
3 July – 30 August 2015
Preview: Thursday 2 July 2015, 6.30-8.30pm


Chisenhale Gallery presents a major new film installation by Melbourne-based artist Nicholas Mangan that continues his recent investigations into the relationship between energy and social transformation. Ancient Lights is the first solo exhibition of Mangan’s work in the UK and comprises two new films, presented within a specially conceived installation powered entirely by an on-site solar PV system. This new work is the culmination of Mangan’s extended research into the physical and conceptual power of the sun, and the role that it has played in human economy, culture and technology throughout history.

Ancient Lights explores connections between the Aztec Sun Stone, rediscovered at Zócalo, Mexico City where it was buried following the Spanish Conquest; the concentric mirrors of the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Southern Spain; and pioneering advances in dendrochronology carried out by A. E. Douglass at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. In one film, Mangan brings together footage shot on location in Spain and Arizona with audiovisual data gathered by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory project. This work positions the sun at the centre of a series of cyclic systems, both geophysical and cultural. Drawing on Aztec ritual and the research of Soviet scientist Alexander Chizhevsky, who linked sun spots and the eleven year solar cycle to periods of revolutionary activity, Mangan examines the relationship between entropy – as sacrifice or loss – and the perpetual movement of the sun.

The exhibition is powered by energy harnessed using solar panels placed on the roof of Chisenhale’s building, which feed a set of batteries installed in the gallery. The off-grid system operates as a closed circuit, enabling light from the sun to be transformed into projected light. A second film acts as a sculptural vignette, depicting a Mexican ten-peso coin spinning in slow motion. The coin loses and regains momentum in a continuous loop, as if in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium.



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