Nicholas Vargelis
is a visual artist living and working in New York City.
In a community garden in the Lower East Side a lighting intervention takes place. The center of the work is a light string — an homage to the artist Felix Gonzales Torres. At first glance the light string appears to be an industrial produced ready-made, but closer inspection reveals that it is unique although assembled from standard modular electrical fittings — white cord and porcelain sockets that support a set of incandescent light bulbs, hand painted in various shades of color. A calculation of energy consumption determined that the garden’s electrical service cannot handle both the light string and the existing permanent garden lighting system. In order to accommodate the light string, the existing garden lighting is modernized with energy saving L.E.D. light bulbs. The L.E.D. light bulbs installed in various lamps around the periphery of the garden are chosen for their quality to mimic the incandescent light bulb’s shape and burning filament. The new L.E.D. light bulbs are hand painted to mimic the colored effect on the light string. Over the course of several months, the light string’s configuration changes periodically to reflect, highlight, or contrast other cultural events in the garden. Additionally, a theatrical dimming system is made available, allowing for variations of intensity to to the light string and permanent garden lighting.

This work takes as a point of departure Dan Flavin’s sculpture ‘Untitled, Jan. 22, 1964’. Where Flavin used fluorescent lamps, here incandescent light bulbs are used instead. Flavin’s linear dimensions and pattern of varying colors are used but Flavin’s nuances of white fluorescent are changed to a range of warm pigments applied to the surface of the light bulbs by hand. While the Flavin sculpture captures a frozen moment in time (his lights remain continuously lit) here a theatrical device is applied to the electrical installation that turned the lights on for 60 seconds and then off for 60 seconds in a continual loop.

For this project I was asked to make a work to light the gallery space as part of a group show. An overarching theme in the show is that of transporting thought and intelligence across space and time. In considering technology and the spirit world I opted for an embodiment of light through a theatrical mise-en-scène examining the range of color temperatures seen in consumer lighting technologies (from warm “white” to daylight etc.) -- but instead of using different technologies (such as L.E.D. or C.F.L.’s) colored pigment is applied to standard incandescent light bulbs. A theatrical dimming system is used to make the room slowly changes from whiteish-blue to light-amber and back over the course of several hours. This results in a chromatic shift in the gallery that is only perceived by the viewer if they stay in the room for a significant amount of time.

The Bradley Eros VHS archive (or Velvet Hermetic System)is a collection of over 600 VHS tapes collected by Mr. Eros, a New York City experimental filmmaker. Most of the titles are from an earlier underground culture. While some tapes were obtained from various movie distribution houses, others are dubs and bootlegs.

As the collapse of the downtown movie houses gave rise to the suburban home theater, now in the 21st century the activity of movie viewing has moved online. With the personal computer attention moves at the speed of clicks. Rarities are decidedly more accessible. The immediacy of Youtube, Karagarga and UbuWeb have disappeared embodied searching. The archive contains a holy grail of weirdness and subversive art collected while Eros lived in Chinatown and the East Village in the 80s and Williamsburg during the 90s.

The Blue Balcony is an installation that recreates a grand cinema of 1920’s and offers an abstraction of the expected cinematic experience. From the outside the sculpture resembles a non-desrcript plywood shack propped up on stilts with a narrow staircase allowing access to the interior. Upon entering the sculpture, one is immersed in a heav- ily detailed and colorful environment. Three rows of cinema chairs and a projection booth all on stepped platforms help to create a sense of height and depth. Blue Balcony references the ‘atmospheric’ movie houses of the 1920’s where the walls of the auditorium resemble a permanent Hollywood stage set with fake building façades under an artificial starry night sky.

In place of the screen are two giant plate glass windows looking to the outside. During nightly ‘Sans Screenings’ movies are played with soundtrack intact, but sans image. The visual component of the film is nonetheless present as an abstraction of light realized via lighting effects generated by a computer algorithm that analyzes the movie and translates images into values of light intensity. This real-time data is used to control dozens of light bulbs hidden in the decor of the room.

Thematically the balcony alludes to Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist fairy tale The Blue Bird, as well as the labyrinth of Louis XIV’s Gardens of Versailles and the 1924 silent cubist film L’Inhumaine, featuring Georgette Leblanc framed by the modernist sets of the French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.

This work consists of three parts: First, a video loop documenting the artist stealing light bulbs in the streets of Paris and turning off the lights in Parisian métro. Second, another video loop showing the visible parts of the lighting circuit in the artist’s studio in action. Third: a sculpture made of standard modular lighting parts and light bulbs gathered, bought, or stolen from diverse locales such as the flea market , the Centre Pompidou, Galerie la Vitrine, le Centre d’Art Maubuisson, various rendez-vous via, S.B.F. Electricité, etc.

Video can be viewed via this web page:

For this installation, an electrical system is installed consisting of outlets, switches, and black cable. On the floor is a box of hand painted incandescent light bulbs of various colors and forms plus a box of electrical cables with sockets and plugs that work in conjunction with the outlets installed in the ceiling and the hand painted light bulbs.

During the opening of the show I use these materials to execute a dynamic lighting situation. Following a script, I manipulate the lamps andcreate varying arrangements of color, intensity, focus, direction, and position.

I also sit behind a small stand offering visitors to buy a copy of Light Requisite for an Electric Stage in the form of a cheap plastic silver-glitter hats. The title given to the sparkle-hat is referencing the kinetic light sculpture by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy of the same name built between 1922 and 1930.

In my installation the kinetic sculpture of Moholy-Nagy is replaced by the cheap plastic sparkle hats, and Moholy-Nagy’s lighting effects-- executed by programable relay switches and machines-- are instead executed with the action of my body and the bodies of the visitors in the gallery.

For video documentation please consult the following link:

Part lecture and part installation, This second part of W.S.G.I.A.G. (When Something Is Good Its Always Goood) highlights the aesthetic variations of incandescent lighting technology.

The lecture happens under a scenography of gallery track lighting activated in a theatrical way: spot lights of deep contrasting colors are turned on and off throughout the lecture by a technician following a script. The abrupt lighting changes occur in contrast to the rhythm of the lecture.

After the lecture, the public is invited to have a drink in a light bulb store, celebrating its “Grand Opening”. Inside the store, the rather empty space is dominated by a gigantic wooden sculpture “When Something Is Good, It’s Always Good,” again, as in part one, an artwork appropriated from fellow artist Augustin Grenèche. This time Augustin’s sign is re-built in a larger scale and light bulbs are added.

Just below the sign, is a big bin displaying the light bulbs for sale, separated into three categories: 50 cents, 1 Euro, and 3 Euros. People are invited to select light bulbs from the bin and present them to the light bulb salesman. The salesman tests each light bulb in the light bulb tester. After observing how each light bulb works, the customer can then buy the light bulbs, often with a significant discount.

During the conception of this work, the ban on incandescent light bulbs in Europe had already started. Notably all frosted incandescent light bulbs had been taken out of production and off the market.

In order to engage people and provoke a conversation or an exchange, I decided to give away, for free, several hundred incandescent light bulbs infront of the the Cité Internationale Université de Paris, a busy student center in the south of Paris. The light bulbs have a frost or matt finish to the glass surface that I applied myself. To create my light bulb stand I appropriated an art work from friend and colleague Augustin Grenèche that consisted of a sentence written with giant wooden letters, “When Something’s Good It’s Always good.”

Over the course of an afternoon, I gave away hundreds of light bulbs and had countless engaged conversations with various people passing by on topics ranging from economy, ecology, aesthetics, health, nuclear energy, globalization, consumer freedom, and planned obsolescence.

When I began to research Cinema architecture of the 1920”s I realized that the information, documentation and scholarly research available insufficient... So along with two colleagues we decided to make a research voyage to study and document what is a Cinema Palace.

We started our voyage in the library and research center of the American Movie Palace Museum in Elhurst, Illinois where for several days we studied many documents, images and architectural objects/ relics. Next we started our road trip circling the Midwest (from Chicago to Milwaukee and Detroit), and visited all sorts of cinemas in various states (either transformed into a supermarket/ shooting range/ hardware store/ live theater/ bank etc. or totally abandoned). We were in contact with historians and owners of Cinema Palaces, and other people that remembered the final years that these places were functioning as cinemas. Our trip lasted over a month and we saw over 60 cinema buildings and conducted a dozen interviews.

All content (c) Nicholas Vargelis, 2016
Website (c) Pierre de Brun, 2016