An ephemeral, “fugitive” art form, the Light Show does not exist as an object, but as shared experiences. How does the contemporary artist-researcher re-animate the archive of knowledge, techniques, and materials of this elusive art form as new live practice?
Light Shows of the 1960s were a poly-fusion of media, a responsive collage of performed photographic and non-photographic technologies mixing pre-composed and real-time elements. Artists and filmmakers were drawn to this freer form of expression where the art was not rigidly defined. Widely regarded as pioneers of their craft, The Joshua Light Show performed weekly light shows to popular music acts between 1969 and 1971 in New York. Their inventive, unorthodox use of technology, hand-made cinema and theatrical techniques blurred the boundaries between moving image, theatre, and art. The basic precept was improvisation, performed using an evolving palette comprising lumia, liquids, pure light, slides and 16mm film loops. These elements were superimposed onto each other in an unrepeatable, organic “living artwork”, made in the moment.
A trans-generational collaboration with Joshua White, founding member of The Joshua Light Show, presented the gift of re-interpreting these components. Furnished with original Joshua Light Show materials, the challenge was to make these my own whilst navigating between preservation and re-animation, balancing the endless options of the digital interface with the authenticity of analogue and hand-made elements. Digitising rare film loops and slides affords boundless opportunities in performance without erasing the original. However, scratching into film directly brings a physical engagement with the material and process creating a new analogue rendition. In an artistic practice which favours transience over permanency, the true value of this archive material is for it to be re-used.
The light show is a living entity, kept alive by generations of artists seeking to preserve and expand the techniques and knowledge of their predecessors. The analogue-digital hybrid retains the hand-made qualities of the analogue whilst embracing the almost infinite possibilities of the digital. The Light Show archive re-animated, made in the moment, is universal and open for all to experience.
Marian Saunders is an artist-researcher whose core interest concerns moving image as live performance. Currently studying for a PhD at Norwich University of The Arts, her research considers the relationship between historical moving image practices and contemporary live visuals. Drawing on this in her own practice, she has developed an analogue-digital hybrid approach to her live visual performances. Informed by hand-made cinema, she expands on traditional techniques whilst embracing the possibilities of modern technology. Made in the moment, her performances respond to sound, space, and audience to create ephemeral shared experiences.
Recent live performances include ‘The Light Works’ (The Shoe Factory Norwich, 2022), ‘Window Jam’ (NUA Riverside, 2022), ‘Plug In’ (First Site Gallery Colchester, 2018) and ’Oscillation’ (NUA East Gallery, 2017). She collaborates regularly with musicians and sound artists to perform her experimental live visuals and is a founding member of the Norwich Audio Visual Group.