Ian Whittlesea: A Breathing Bulb

8 August – 6 September 2014


24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the whole of August, Ian Whittlesea's new work, 'A Breathing Bulb', will illuminate the gallery at Marlborough Contemporary.

A single bulb in the centre of the space repeatedly fades up to an intense brightness and back down to black. The slow pulse of the bulb is that of meditation and transformation, the light strengthening in the same way an abdomen rises during inhalation and then dimming as an abdomen falls during exhalation. During the day it is quietly present but at night it transforms the gallery into a lighthouse, visible from the street below.

With this new work Whittlesea continues his examination of how conceptual art can directly change the physiological and psychic state of the viewer. It is an extension of his exploration of the esoteric Mazdaznan breathing exercises that artist Johannes Itten taught at the Bauhaus, the renowned art school founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar.

Mazdaznan's cult of exercise, vegetarian diet and magnetic sexual exchanges swept Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century, and is claimed to have inspired a bewildering variety of figures including Karl Marx, Haeckel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, H.G. Wells and J. H. Kellogg. Most importantly for this work it is said that Thomas Edison was deeply influenced by its teachings and that he named the first light bulb Mazda in its honour.

'A Breathing Bulb' relates directly to a sentence taken from the writings of scientist and alchemist Isaac Newton that Whittlesea has used as the basis for one of his recent series of text paintings:

'The changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, is very comfortable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted with transmutations'.

It also indirectly draws on works Whittlesea made at the very start of his career when he recreated in galleries the level of light measured in the studios of his friends and contemporaries Simon Patterson, Bridget Smith and Fiona Banner.


Ian Whittlesea's work is concerned with words and the ability of text to transform the physical and psychic state of the viewer. It often uses the lives and works of other artists as source material and assumes many forms: from painstaking text paintings to printed books, ephemeral posters and transient projections.

He first became known for his (ongoing) series of Studio Paintings that, using white paint on a dark ground, simply name the place that another artist or writer has worked. His translation of Yves Klein's Les fondements du Judo was published in 2009 and his newly illustrated edition of Mazdaznan Health & Breath Culture in 2012. These texts, along with his recent work Becoming Invisible, have been collectively described as 'instruction manuals for transcendental exercise'.

From the Studio Paintings to his brief recreation of Klein's Judo Académie de Paris Whittlesea has consistently engaged with the legacy of conceptual art, taking text into the expanded field.


Marlborough Contemporary opened in October 2012. Situated above Marlborough Fine Art's existing space on Albemarle Street, Marlborough Contemporary represents an entirely new roster of artists, brought together by Professor Andrew Renton. With a commitment to working with cutting-edge art of the 21st Century, Marlborough Contemporary complements Marlborough Fine Art's expertise in 19th and 20th Century Masters with artists including Sigalit Landau, Koen van den Broek, Adam Chodzko & Joao Onofre.

For more information please visit www.marlboroughcontemporary.com

Marlborough Contemporary
6 Albemarle Street London W1S 4BY
Opening Times: Monday to Friday: 10 am – 6 pm







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