Talking Lights

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

Oursler made his first "talking light" in the early 1990s. The artist's interest in son et lumiere and the reductionist quality to the moving image is taken to the extreme in this work: it consists only of sound and light. 

Television and film rely on the persistence of vision and break the world into frames-per-second, which pale in comparison with actual perceptions of reality. If one looks at the apparatus of mimetics involved in moving-image production, for example the shaded and colored points of lights aligned in rows on the TV screen, it is evident that the viewer is engaged in a willing suspension of disbelief. Or one could infer the inverse, that the viewer is involved in the production of belief through the act of seeing a mimetic image. Following this logic, Oursler arrived at a simple sound-modulated light, a basic electrical circuit that anthropomorphizes light with a basic equation-the louder or softer the sound, the brighter or dimmer the light.

These works are installed in various ways, sometimes in relation to other light sources and architecture. Although physically small in scale, their ephemeral quality extends over large areas, illuminating the space and viewer with a chiaroscuro effect. 

In 1995, Oursler presented Talking Street Light for Munster, in which an actual street light was modified to house a "talking light." At first, the viewer might mistake the flickering lamp for a technical error, but in closer proximity a voice can be heard in synchronization with the seemingly random pulses of light. This particular lamp was loosely based on the warning signs and illogical leaps of faith involved in the conversion to fringe cult belief systems.