Looking into the Light: Examining the Apparatus in Contemporary Art



Sensory and immersive experiences are of primary importance in much contemporary art, and often these experiences are produced by or mediated through the use of a technical apparatus. This paper will explore this dynamic, drawing on the model of the apparatus outlined by media theorist Vilem Flusser.

While developed specifically in relation to “technical images”, such as photography and film, I suggest that Flusser’s conception of the apparatus offers insights into contemporary immersive and experiential installation art, in which the viewer’s experience is mediated or generated by an apparatus.

Discussions of such practices, exemplified by those of Carsten Holler and Olafur Eliasson, are often framed in terms of phenomenal experience, spectacle culture and relational art. I argue that it is the logic of the apparatus that subtends the machine aesthetics employed by these artists. The work of both Holler and Eliasson comprises an ‘apparatus-audience complex’ that displaces the viewing subject. Through a consideration of the apparatus and its histories in relation to specific works by both artists, light can be shed on these specific models of subjectivity. In particular, the destabilising impulse at play in the work of these artists emerges as a form of interference, aimed precisely at disrupting the conventions of perception and sensation.