[Written as notes to accompany an installation in The Box, a video exhibition space at the Wexner Center for the Arts in March 2008. These notes are available in pdf form here. Light is Waiting is available to view online here.]
Light is Waiting (Michael Robinson, 2007)
From the most insipid and aesthetically unambitious source material possible – the family-oriented sitcom – Michael Robinson has crafted Light is Waiting, a video with startling formal properties and troubling tone. The material for the video is mined entirely from the popular television series Full House; a show that ran for eight successful seasons from 1987-1995 and still lives on in syndication. The largest contribution that Full House make to American culture during those eight years was providing the biggest platform to date for the, uh, talents of John Stamos, Bob Saget, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as well as the memorable catchphrase, “Oh, mylanta .” One of the most remarkable things about Robinson’s video is that he isn’t aiming to take cheap, ironic shots at an easy target. As he said in a recent interview in Cinema Scope magazine, “I’m not necessarily mocking Full House, I am underlining its problems and letting it speak for itself.”
Things start off innocently enough with unaltered footage from Full House of two teenage girls transporting a TV upstairs so that they can simultaneously watch the news and a music video top ten countdown. In one of the most telegraphed pratfalls in sitcom history, the two drop the television and unleash the malevolent forces lurking within the idiot box. The latent light of the video’s title no longer waits and the screen breaks out in a full-on strobal assault. The image and accompanying soundtrack then begin to break down before we are returned to our regularly scheduled Full House episode, already in progress.
But things are still slightly out of calibration. Faint ghosting and doubling of the image is faintly visible and while the video seems to have moved on to a tropical setting, the audio is lagging behind and still trying to figure out what happened from the previous scene. A disembodied, disjointed voice (the “mother” character from Full House) begins to seemingly address the viewer directly in a confessional, existential line of questioning. We then see the cast of Full House sitting around a campfire within this Polynesian underworld setting. As the scene progresses, the mirroring effect becomes more prominent. Overtop of the “normal” image is placed a flipped version of the same scene creating doppelgangers of all the persons and objects that appear on screen. Throughout the rest of the video, these doubles create a myriad of impossible spaces and images.
Things become increasingly troubled and troubling as the family first encounters ooga-booga redskin caricatures that represent a clichéd, xenophobic representation of “natives” and then are seen singing for their supper and entertaining their way into the hearts of the locals. Throughout the doubling and altered audio make for an increasingly queasy-making experience. The video reaches its climax as John Stamos begins to address his attenuated caterwauling to an Olsen baby. On the actual episodes of Full House, the Olsen Twins collectively played a single character in an end-around of California child labor laws – it was only in their non-Full House projects that they appeared as twins. But the mirroring effect that Robinson employs in Light is Waiting causes a single Olsen zygote to split into two. But as Stamos lifts the now seemingly conjoined twins above his head they begin to fuse into a single unit – an Olsen Twins starchild to rule us all. They separate again and then seem to become integrated into Stamos’ person. At this point, the mind and the video can’t process much more and the credits roll.
While it’s probably impossible for Robinson to totally transcend the kitsch of his source material, as Michael Sicinski has pointed out, he manages to transform it into something “primal, neocolonialist, satanic, and mean.” Full House then becomes a distress signal from what Robinson has called “a culture lost at sea.” The video is also an illustration of how a fully formulated sense of aesthetics can be produced from even the most artless of material. Even when you’re lost out there and all alone, light is waiting to carry you home.
© The Ohio State University/Wexner Center for the Arts. Reproduced by permission.