LONDON PICCADILLY: WHERE SHOPPING TURNS SPIRITUAL

London’s Piccadilly circus is heaving with shoppers, struggling with armloads of bags. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s noisy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to suddenly turn a corner and drift into a world of pure, white, softly-lit calm, where all the hassle has stopped and you sit in blissed-out peace.

Yesterday, that’s just what I did.

Leaving behind the crush encircling Eros, in five minutes I was floating into the Royal Academy‘s new exhibition, Rebirth. A meditation on the death and life of a star by Japanese artist Mariko Mori, it was like stepping inside a minimalist spa, minus the eucalyptus smells.

But as I took up position in front of the first exhibit, Tom Na H-iu, it became clear that this was no mere chill-out zone. Before me was a translucent glass megalith that wouldn’t have been out of place at Stonehenge except that it was pulsing with light. I discovered that it was hooked up to an observatory in Japan that detects emissions from the sun which are transmitted to the work in real time and appear as constantly shifting luminous shapes. So while meditating on the bursting patterns it was also a moment to consider time, space and how ancient peoples might once have contemplated similar forms.

Other exhibits were equally magical and challenging. In one room, a circle of nine smaller “standing stones” called to mind the planets. As I sat, each almost imperceptibly changed colour to suggest the varying tones of the planets as they move around the sun. I was also intrigued by exquisite photographs of Sun Pillar, a translucent column erected on an island off the Japanese coast. This will cast a shadow on a circular Moonstone in the sea, which, once installed, will change colour according to the lunar cycle.

The shadow of this last work will be in perfect alignment on the day of the winter solstice. So I considered it highly appropriate that I visited the show on December 21st. Maybe the auspicious timing gave the exhibition an extra glow. If so, it was one that stayed with me as I plunged back in among the Regent Street crowds.

Rebirth by Mariko Mori. At Burlington Gardens (not the main Royal Academy building) until 17 February.

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