Spheres d'influence, Diamond the 8 lights, 1985

By Billy Rubin
Published in Vox Vernacular
Feb. 25, 2014

In Spheres d'influence, Oursler created a theatrical fusion of painted structures and video light of shifting scale and intimacy designed to engulf the viewer in an installation energized by a cascading light show and the cacophonous waves of voices and electronic music. Combining hand- made and electronically produced images in a mesh of hi-tech and expressionistic tropes, Oursler maps the topography of the individual's struggle to remain within the social fabric. As the title implies, the installation seems to form a network of influences across the structure. Depending on the viewer's course of motion through the space, his physical perspective is altered-he might be dwarfed by a large, megaphone-like horn, "the voice from above," a conical vortex with video lips at the center that shouts across the installation in dialogue with the volcanic, crater-like "voice from below". He is caught between persuasive competing moral perspectives. Wandering through a Murnauesque* cityscape glowing with television-monitor windows he becomes a larger- than-life voyeur, observing the activities in these private spaces. Humorous tableaux can be seen in the luminous windows as characters fall under the spell of home electronics, ranging from a video-game maze of architectural plans to the vegetative state of watching television. A ziggurat-like form occupies the center of the space, topped with a rotating mirror that reflects a video- animated dissection of astrological designs highlighting the characters' use of the horoscope as a means of predicting fate, the future and sexual activities. Finally, a faceted, diamond-like construction with numerous video images reflects a poetic interpretation of eight types of light, including firelight, night light, stop light, divine light and black light. The video uses a mixture of live-action and stop-action animation effects and small- scale props to form an elaborate, spectral narrative. The scripts reference various sources, including personal advertisements, film noir, pop songs and Jean Genet. Oursler designed the multi-channel installation to have no beginning or end, to "phase with itself" and to take on a life of its own. 

The installation was commissioned, produced and presented by curator Christine Van Assche at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1985. 

* F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) was a highly influential German expressionist film director whose unique cinematic vision combined the moving camera with action and place to magical, poetic effect. He was an unrivalled master at documenting the emotional/visual landscape surrounding the narrative.