This is Marshall McLuhan is the transcript of Alex Kitnick's opening remarks preceding the screening of This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage, that took place at the New Museum as part of Rhizome's New Silent Series.
Anthony McCall, Long Film for Ambient Light, 1975
Tonight we’re going to look at a 16mm print of This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Massage, which begins with a brief shot of a light bulb. A few weeks ago as part of its programming at Dia, Light Industry presented Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975), which consists of a lone, if rather large light bulb, hanging in an otherwise empty room, with a wall of windows covered over in scrim on one side to modulate the light coming in and out. Over a 24 hour span, reaching from noon one day to noon the next, the natural light of the sun and the artificial luminescence of the bulb were put in constant tête-à-tête, projecting forwards and back, contrasting and comparing and facing off with one another. In this play of light and shadows, various social interactions took place, different at different times of the day and night. Occasionally, the bulb was the center of attention—literally highlighted—with people clustering around it, while at other moments its light seemed to match the daylight and not draw much interest at all. Alone and isolated in a cool white space, the bulb’s plain power, usually used as an aid to display, was itself illuminated.
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964
The light bulb was always McLuhan’s first example when explaining what he meant by his famous mantra “the medium is the message” since it communicates no information itself but rather facilitates a range of behavioral possibilities: “The electric light is pure information,” McLuhan wrote in 1964’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. “It is a medium without a message…