University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
38 ft. 6 in. (11.73 m) high x 10 ft. 6 in. (3.2 m) diameter
Commissioned February 1978 by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a gift from the estate of Robert Z. Hawkins, and donations from local sources
Installed March 11, 1981
Inaugurated March 12, 1981
The site in Las Vegas for which we were commissioned to make a sculpture in February 1978, a small plaza between the Artemus W. Ham concert hall and the Judy Bailey Theater, on the campus of the University of Nevada, is far from the illuminated Strip of the city's night life. Coosje van Bruggen, especially, appreciated this distance, which eventually became an important part of the sculpture's concept. However, it didn't start that way.
Because the sculpture was expected to attract audiences to the performance center at night as well as by day, a subject suitable to both darkness and light was required. A flashlight was chosen, the sort that can be stood on end with its beam shining up, a sculpture to be "turned on" at night, like the searchlights and light spectaculars of the Strip in the background and, in a smaller, human scale, like the object carried by an usher showing members of the audience to their seats.
The first treatment of the subject was a tower-like open construction which could be climbed by stairs inside to a platform where lights would be directed up into the sky. The proposal was approved May, 1979, but fabrication was put on hold when Coosje developed strong doubts about the concept during the summer that followed, finding this lighthouse version of the Flashlight too mechanical in appearance and the light shining up into the sky too clichèd and reminiscent of authoritarian spectacle. Moreover, she felt the design did not reflect the overwhelming, mysterious presence of Nature all around. Coosje proposed a more original approach: making an analogy to the monumentalization of tiny plant forms in Karl Blossfeldt's Urformen der Kunst, she compared the flashlight to a cactus which led to a very different formulation of its appearance, creating a daylight identity which had been neglected in the lighthouse approach.
We set about making new models leading to a design in which the open structure was replaced by a solid central cylinder around which were mounted twenty-four steel fins of 3/4 inch steel in the shape of a flashlight profile. Coosje then turned the entire structure upside down and, using concealed fluorescent lamps buried in the surface of the plaza, created a modest ring of mostly hidden light around the face of the Flashlight, to achieve an intimate effect. The alternate proposal was accepted in January 1980.
Scaled in relation to the architecture on either side of the plaza, the Flashlight, installed in March 1981, stands thirty eight feet six inches and, made entirely of steel, weighs 74,000 pounds. Non-reflective paint is used on the surface of the sculpture in order to produce the densest black possible, deepened further by the shadows between the fins. In the bright desert sunlight, the intense blackness of the sculpture extends a piece of the night into the day.
The Flashlight was the first Large-Scale Project to bear the signatures of both artists. At the completion of the installation, we were hoisted to the top -- actually the bottom -- of the Flashlight to sign our names which were then welded to the steel.
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