The light - fantastic

Dunedin, specifically Port Chalmers, can claim the artist Bill Culbert - a significant and pioneering figure on the art world's stage - as one of its own, although it has not done a great deal yet to recognise his status.

Best known here for his collaborations with his friend and fellow Port Chalmers artist Ralph Hotere, he has lived overseas since the late 1950s, mostly in France and England, returning here only from time to time.

His life and work have at long last become the subject of an outstandingly thorough book, Bill Culbert: Making Light Work (AUP, $99.99, hbk), by Ian Wedde.

The title is particularly apt, for light, especially electric light, and how it may be made to serve the purposes of expression, has been Culbert's passion since the 1960s.

His work is quite mysterious to some, a marvel to others: sculptural, energy-as-art, bare-bones austere - bound to inspire debate, argument and at times controversy, just what challenging art should do.

Culbert has been very well served by the illustrations in this massive tome, especially those of his light-based installations but, as in most such books, there is nothing quite like the experience of the real thing and the deployment of the viewer's imagination and other senses.

Wedde's text is analytical and one for the reader familiar with contemporary critical and especially curatorial trends, but it is also happily informed with Culbert's own opinions, garnered from interviews by the author. - Bryan James

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