University of Illinois at Chicago
RUFF-DISSERTATION-2020.pdf (8.71 MB)

A Medium to Transform the Power of the Sun: Light, Space, and the Technological Apparatus

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posted on 2020-12-01, 00:00 authored by Georgina Elizabeth Ruff
This study considers the implications of luminary technology used by artists László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Piene, and Olafur Eliasson, whose immersive installations of light in the 20th and 21st centuries are anchored by visible and familiar apparatuses. The deployment of the apparatus in these works forges ideological and/or social connections with actively engaged viewers, hindering the destruction of the aura by technology as theorized by Walter Benjamin. Analyzing the implications of the technological apparatus through the lens of a contemporary theory leads to the conclusion that while the physical, technological apparatus will necessarily obsolesce and tend toward the status of an artifact, it is the presence and critical engagement of the viewer with that apparatus upon which the aura of the work hinges. László Moholy-Nagy, in the construction of "Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne" (1930) sought to broaden the human sensorium and facilitate social change in a manner similar to that of his contemporary, Bertolt Brecht, who theorized productivity as the goal of the nascent radio. In the development of his "Lichtballette," Otto Piene shifted his positioning of the viewer from passive to active in relation to the apparatus: an evolution that resonates with the theories of Jean-Louis Baudry and Jean-Louis Comolli concerning the ideological and social power of the apparatus. In his intentional creation of larger dispositifs – as outlined by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and Gilles Deleuze – Olafur Eliasson uses the physical technological apparatus as both a tangible connection to this larger system of relations, and as a facilitating aspect of the technological sublime as defined by David Nye. With an analysis of the physical technological apparatus which ideologically represents the artist and mediates the viewer’s experience, this study answers the call for a multi-valent approach to light-based installation works.



Higgins, Hannah


Higgins, Hannah


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Archias, S. Elise Funk, Tiffany van der Meulen, Sjoukje Stimson, Blake Sauter, Daniel

Submitted date

December 2020

Thesis type



  • en

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