L7-L5, 1984

By Billy Rubin
Published in Vox Vernacular
Feb. 24, 2014

L7-L5 was Oursler's first large-scale immersive installation, presented at The Kitchen (New York) and the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) in 1984. L7-L5 is a cryptic title which conflates the name of the orbital point between the moon and earth where an object would stay perfectly in perpetual orbit around the earth (L5) and the colloquial 1950s slang for a "square" (L7), a mildly derogatory term for a conservative or unhip person. The work is a contemplation of science fiction and how its narrative holds a unique position in culture, blending fantasy, science and belief systems. When coining the term "sci-fi" in his pulp magazine Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback suggested criteria for the new form, which should be part- narrative, part-speculation but also real science, in the hope that it would inspire and provoke inventive thought. The flurry of activity among science-fiction writers provided an entertaining way for philosophical ideas to enter mainstream culture. 

This immersive darkroom installation masks all evidence of the TV monitors, embedding them as sculptural elements and using the screens as light sources. Oursler reflects his images in broken glass, mirrors and pools of water as a way of connecting the moving images to the physical space. A shattered glass house is the central image in this work and reflects a translucent video image with holographic effect. Inside we see a hand drawing diagrams of disturbing accounts of nightly violations by vaporous aliens, all vocally recounted by an off-screen woman, the anonymous Gloria. While preparing for L7-L5, Oursler took out an ad in the Village Voice, stating that "first-hand accounts of engagements of UFOs or extraterrestrials" would be remunerated at the rate of $15/hour. In the resulting videotape Gloria describes in horrific detail her numerous encounters with an extraterrestrial entity in her bedroom. The veracity of the account and Gloria's mysterious state of mind and motivation add a personalized documentary perspective to the science-fiction narrative. 

Nearby, a faux video game parodies Hollywood marketing of movie byproducts. Through a peephole in the game, we see children playing with toy laser guns and figurines; the video is reflected in an agitated pool of water. A small skyline of buildings flanks one wall and above it mirrored stars reflect broadcast TV, suggesting that such transmissions act as messages to possible distant life forms. In another area an inverted flag-like construction in green and flesh tones is animated by a television featuring humorous claymation scenarios, exploring some of the ideas that all life on earth is in fact alien, even the mold on the bread in your kitchen. Densely layered voices and sounds combine as the viewer moves from one pool of light to the next. Each element plays back and recombines randomly to give the installation an ever- changing, organic quality.