Searchlight, 1986–1994
Installation Stills
Gary Hill

Single channel video/sound installation
Aluminum tube, black and white 3-inch video monitor, motor, two laserdisc players and discs, controlling electronics, three speakers, two amplifiers and one equalizer
Edition of two and one artist’s proof

Searchlight was begun in 1986 and is the precursor to BEACON (Two Versions of the Imaginary), 1990. A 3-inch black and white monitor is mounted inside an 18-inch horizontal aluminum tube which faces a wall in a completely darkened room. The aluminum tube is mounted on a tripod-like base and is motorized to slowly pan back and forth along the wall approximately 180 degrees. A small, focused video image, 12 to 16 inches high, can be seen on the wall when the aluminum tube, like a flashlight or searchlight, faces it at 90 degrees. Moving in either direction from the center point, the image goes slowly out of focus, becoming larger, more diffuse and almost nonexistent. The image consists of the horizon line of an ocean that is scanned back and forth, but the movement of the projected image cancels out the scanning motion of the camera, giving the illusion that the projection is revealing the image.

The sound of the ocean is heard on three external loudspeakers which are positioned in the middle and at both ends of the wall the “searchlight” is pointed at, mounted flush with the wall and covered with white scrim, so as not to be seen. The dry and reverb mix of the sound corresponds to the panning motion of the tube: at the 90-degree point, when the tube faces the wall, there is no reverberation and the sound, coming from the middle speaker, is very flat and localized. At 0 degrees and 180 degrees, there is 100% reverberation, obliterating the content of the sound and correlating to the changing focus and diffusion of light of the projected image.

Space Requirements: This requires a room of approximately 20 feet deep and 40 to 50 feet or more wide and needs complete darkness, including a light baffle at the entrance. The walls must be deep enough to install three recessed speakers that are approximately 8 inches deep. If the depth is not available, a false wall must be built in front of the existing one, or it will be necessary to find thinner speakers that can be recessed in the available space. The speaker which is installed in the center of the room must be absolutely flush with the wall, and then it must be covered with a white linen (that matches the wall) so that the speaker is not visible. A small light (supplied by you) that can be dimmed will be mounted on the ceiling to highlight the main equipment of the piece (this light is minimal).