Anthony McCall @ The Serpentine

Normally a right-brain disciple of emotional intelligence and bohemian laissez-faire, there is something about a fresh sheet of 2cm squared paper that turns me into the Rain Man of stationary. Rules! Order! Little boxes to be filled with little numbers, bringing elegant charcoalian order to a universe of blank papery chaos!


I think of it as a quaintly British prediliction; rather colonial and insecure, a touch Gradgrindian, something lurking deep in the consciousness of a race of islanders for whom freedom means containment. Of course, it's also a bit weird. And it just got worse.

Anthony McCall, the London-born, New York-dwelling artist with a new retrospective at the Serpentine, is not an obvious purveyor of quadratic manuscript fetishism. Probably his most famous works, the 'light projection sculptures' such as Line Describing A Cone (1973), appear to be all about space, freedom and experimentation, with great planes of moving light and smoke projected through dark rooms. It is like walking through film, if film were a place; at first you brace yourself against the false walls of light, constantly prepared for a resistance that never comes; after a while you start to play like a CGI creature, powerful and cheeky, light and shadow shifting and moulding around your body as you move.

It's reminiscent of Antony Gormley's Blind Light exhibited at the Hayward last year, but with a weightless pleasure that was lacking in Gormley's suffocating, vapour-filled cube. McCall's early films on display, Landscape for Fire and Earthwork, also tend towards the large scale, elemental and anarchic, documenting straight-faced open-air performances by 70s artistic collective Exit. The ceremonial fire-lighting and sheet-carrying is one part Wicker Man to two parts Monthy Python, and surprisingly exhilerating, sensual and funny.

However, the most satisfying element of the exhibition is the reminder that all is underpinned by absolute order and control. In the outer room (where the pale-fac'd, rectangular-specc'd, Philip-Lim-drap'd meeja types clustered self-consciously on the night of the private view) the walls are hung with the calculations and diagrams that McCall used to create his apparently effortless and organic projections and films. In particular, the plan for Landscape for Fire is like the scripture of an OCD Su-Dokuphile, a geekily lovely piece of brain poetry and a testament to the old-fashioned craft behind McCall's 'avant-garde' art.

Mmm. Sometimes a girl just has the urge to slip out of her chiffon, snap on a Dolce and Gabbana metal corset belt, and do some long multiplication. Fact.