The Empire of Lights


Video, 18 mins

The Empire of Lights is named after Rene Magritte’s series of paintings of the same title. As Magritte combined day and night in a single image, Coutts does likewise with dawn and dusk coexisting in a moving image work. Floors Castle is the largest inhabited stately home in Scotland. It is famous both for being a calendar house, i.e. having 365 outward facing windows, one for every day of the year and for being the ancestral home of Tarzan in the film Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of The Apes (1984). In Coutts’ film, two unseen participants (the butler and housekeeper) turn on a trail of lights one by one as darkness falls and dawn improbably rises in the sky behind. Both begin in different wings of the castle making their way towards each other to eventually meet in the gun room. To achieve this takes the time necessary to cross the vast rooms and corridors, find light switches and stick to the path prescribed. There are so many rooms that many are allocated to a single activity or collection of objects e.g. The Game Preparation Room, Hat Room or Flower Room. The camera films this activity from a fixed position outside.

The lights going on are almost imperceptible as is the shift in light with dusk and dawn pulling in opposite directions in real time. As such, the work becomes difficult to view directly instead becoming a measure of time spent alongside the other works. When you look back at The Empire of Lights, having walked away, as in the game Grandmothers’ Footsteps, everything is changed.

The Empire of Lights was made during an English Heritage Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship (2007).

See the publication The Discovery of Slowness, and the body of related work The Discovery of Slowness containing, Self Portrait with Stars, Estates and At Sea.