Light Bulb and Fire, 1970 (2 minute excerpt)

Light Bulb and Fire


B&W, 20 min., sound

(2 minute excerpt)


Light Bulb and Fire is a directly shot situation videotape, static except for camera-range activity and close-ups. Various activities are performed within a restricted area involving props such as a trick light bulb (a way of “lighting” without an electrical source or cord), spray paint, powder for igniting a fire, and sheets of paper. While the thematic continuity of light by means of bulb and fire is maintained throughout the tape, the activities are improvised. Hands and feet manipulate the objects—the viewer cannot see more than these limbs, which operate as tools for the movement of the props. The activities are improvised rather than choreographed, even though some have been derived from movements made in the execution of Sonnier’s static work. The activities convey a sense of performance that is task and object-oriented. The situation in which these occur is that of video space and time---an unedited block of time that Sonnier has maintained as a unit. He emphasizes the ambiguity of images in video as opposed to real life. For example, a black “hole” or shot appears on the screen from time to time. Only later does the viewer see that this is caused by the trick light bulb going on and off. The ambiguity of information viewed on the monitor is reinforced by his use of wipes and reversals of image from positive to negative, by means of a special effects generator.