Imagine walking in a mist so thick that you can’t see further than an outstretched arm. That’s what it was like to be inside Anthony Gormley’s Blind Light exhibit in the South Bank Centre.
It’s a very odd experience. There are 24 other people walking around inside the exhibit, which is about 10 meters squared, and even though you can hear than talking to each other and running around, you rarely see them at all. If you do, it’s only as shadows suddenly looming out of the greyness. Most people give you an embarrassed smile when they see you, and then drift off.
After a couple of minutes inside, you notice two things. Firstly, you begin to see floaters very clearly. These are the little transparent squiggles that you see floating across your field of vision occasionally. Normally you can’t see them because there’s too much stuff going on visually, but when you can’t see anything but grey, they really stand out. I suspect if you spent a lot of time in there you’d start to hallucinate.
The other thing you notice is the water condensing on your nose. Of course, it condenses everywhere, but for some reason your nose begins dripping with water; a strange thing, since it’s usually associated with the cold. The mist can also cause fits of coughing, if you’re not careful; it’s best to breathe through your nose, so as to avoid tickling your throat.
A common question about Blind Light is, how do you find your way out? The design of the exhibit gives an easy answer. You usually have to queue to get inside, and the queue snakes around the sides of the square glass walls. While waiting, you’ll see people gingerly approach the glass, peering outside, tracing their hands along the wall. They’re finding their way out the old-fashioned way – by following the walls.
So that’s the easy way, but it’s a little disappointing because it lets you see too much of the outside world, which is exactly not what you’ve gone into Blind Light for. The more interesting way is to simply wander around in a random walk, following the noise.
There’s a lot of noise in Blind Light; there are a lot of young people and kids inside. With zero visibility and the wet floors, you might think that they wouldn’t allow kids, but apparently not, and so during the daytime there are frequently children running around and shouting. The kids tend to shout all the time, but after a few exclamations upon entering, the adults whisper to each other.
Even if you can follow the noise to the exit, you can literally be a foot away and not know it. When right at the front of the queue, standing outside the exit, you occasionally see people walk right up to it from the inside, holding their arms outstretched. How can they not see where they are, you wonder impatiently. And yet from the inside, the only way you can be really sure is by stretching out your arm, and touching… nothing.