David Shrigley OBE

Light Switch


Not on display

David Shrigley OBE born 1968
Video, projection, black and white and sound (stereo)
Duration: 1min, 29sec
Purchased 2008


Light Switch is a short digital animation exhibited in a continuous loop. It is projected directly onto the gallery wall by a projector mounted on a tall white plinth. Covered by a Perspex box and standing approximately a metre from the wall, the projector imposes a significant sculptural presence that the viewer cannot avoid being aware of while watching the animation. This is projected at approximate shoulder level. It is based on a drawing of a light switch set just above and to the right of centre in a white rectangular space (the screen). During the course of nearly a minute and a half, a left hand with its index finger outstretched moves from the lower left corner of the screen to the switch and back again repeatedly. Each time it presses on the switch, the screen goes black, becoming white again as the finger comes off the switch. It does this at irregular intervals, sometimes slowly and meditatively, at other times more frenetically, causing rapid flashing and a flurry of clicks. Occasionally the hand retreats to the bottom left corner and flexes its long finger a few times before returning to hover back and forth in the space around the square mount that surrounds the switch. At one point it retreats, disappearing entirely from the screen.

Known principally for a prolific output of comic drawings and text works that he has been developing since the early 1990s (see T12358T12367), David Shrigley began making drawings for animation in 2002, as a result of a commission from Channel 4 television. Since that time, he has created animations for a range of commissions, including television and pop videos, usually viewed on a monitor or computer screen. Short and easily consumable, many of his animations are now disseminated on Youtube (see http://www.davidshrigley.com/animation/animations.html

, accessed 27 February 2009). Unlike the majority of Shrigley’s animations that may be viewed on the internet, which follow a narrative logic emphasised by a voice-over or a song, Light Switch cannot be fully appreciated unless it is viewed in the physical space of the gallery. Here, it recalls another work of the same title created by Shrigley’s contemporary, the British artist Ceal Floyer, whose Light Switch 1992–9 (T11811) comprises a projection of the image of a real light switch on the wall from a slide. In Floyer’s work, as in Shrigley’s, the projector is a visible and significant part of the work; in relation to Floyer’s formal meditation on methods of representation, Shrigley’s work appears as the comic staging of an irresistible activity – the obsessive fiddling with the mechanics of the switch which continues potentially without end. Shrigley’s Light Switch also recalls the conceptual work exhibited by Martin Creed (born 1968) at Tate Britain in 2001 for that year’s Turner Prize (which Creed subsequently won), Work #227: the lights going on and off. As the title indicates, this work comprises the immaterial fact of the gallery being plunged into alternating darkness and light. In contrast with Creed’s macrocosmic work, which affects the whole gallery environment, enveloping the viewer entirely, Shrigley’s Light Switch appears microcosmic and ridiculous. Creed’s alternating light switch is operated by forces not visible to his audience, whereas Shrigley’s Light Switch is manipulated by a simply drawn hand attached to a hairy arm, and beyond that, to a fictitious character with an apparent capricious inability to restrain itself from flipping the switch. An assumed child-like naivety and deliberate over-simplification, not only in his drawing style, but in his presentation of imagery and the voice of the fictional author to whose voice we attribute any words, contribute significantly to the humour in Shrigley’s work. In Light Switch this is manifest in the written words ‘off’, above the switch, and ‘on’ below it, which appear to be helpful while stating the obvious.

Light Switch was created from a sequence of drawings hand made by the artist and then scanned before being passed to a professional animator for animation. It was released in an edition of six. Tate’s copy is the unique artist’s proof.

Further reading:

, accessed 27 February 2009.

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2009

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