Ceal Floyer’s installations are often inconspicuous or unassuming, but make sophisticated use of a number of strategies from such art historical precedents as the readymades of Duchamp and conceptual and minimalist art of the 1960s. Light Switch, one of Floyer’s early works, is a colour photographic slide image of a light switch, projected to scale on a wall at the height one would expect to find a switch in a domestic setting. A slide projector is set up on a stand, near an entrance or doorway, a few feet away from a wall. Only in close proximity to the work does the small area of light projected on the wall become apparent and reveal itself as a projected image – an image of a light switch, existing only as light from the projector.
While there is an element of tromp l’oeil to Light Switch, it is not Floyer’s intention to trick the viewer. Indeed, as in other installations such as Bucket 1999 (where the sound of water dripping into a bucket in the gallery is revealed as a recording), the mechanics of its production are made transparent, and indeed are an integral part of the experience of the work. By demystifying the work’s creation, Floyer, like the conceptual artists of the 1960s, gives precedence to the idea, encouraging the viewer to consider something beyond what is presented to them. Her work examines art itself, its processes, display and meaning, and continually contest the distinctions between what is considered art and what is not. As she says: “The more pared down an idea or its presentation, as is quite characteristic of the work I make, the more I think it can apply to another train of thought.” (Ceal Floyer, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2001, p.7). By always presenting a minimal amount of information or making seemingly obvious interventions, Floyer draws attention to prosaic and overlooked details while alluding to more transcendental concerns.
Floyer was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and studied at Goldsmiths College of Art, London from 1991 to 1994. Like other artists of her generation, there is a palpable element of humour to her work. Floyer revels in wordplay, as in the immediate punning title here, but the wit of her work comes partly from the banality of the elements she works with. It is important to the context of this work, therefore, that the switch itself appears familiar to the viewer. As standard domestic light switches differ vastly in appearance throughout the world, Floyer has made a number of different versions of Light Switch particular to the countries in which the work was produced or exhibited (including American, Canadian, German, Greek, Irish, Italian Japanese, Swedish, and Turkish versions to date). The installation owned by Tate is the UK edition of the work.
Marianne Torp and Angela Rosenberg, Ceal Floyer, exhibition catalogue, X-Rummet Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 2002
Ceal Floyer, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2001
The British Art Show 4, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London, 1995, reproduced p.44 in colour