skip to content | Accessibility Information

Light Research @ MMU

Neon Extravaganza in Blackpool

The current exhibition at Blackpool’s ever-interesting Grundy Gallery is The Charged Line, a riot of neon that comprises a survey of the multiple creative applications of this most prolific form of illuminated art. We have suggested before that neon evokes many symbolic associations, including the futuristic, nostalgic, seedy and commercial, and the works in the exhibition do trigger many resonances. It is difficult to do justice to the richness of the show so three examples must suffice.

green-pimpDavid Batchelor’s outlining of a encrusted, time-worn concrete mixer with garish green neon transforms a utilitarian object into a magical thing, highlighting its shapely form and drawing attention to its battered material form. Green Pimp, from 2006, also captures something of Blackpool itself in its combination of the earthy and the glamorous. It also reminds us of the labouring bodies and industrial machinery that typified the working worlds  of the places from which millions of tourists flocked to the resort in search of thrills and glitter .f-morellet

François Morellet’s three dimensional work, Triple X Neonly, occupies a corner of the gallery with six lines configured to form three cross-cutting X’s that conjure up the abject  areas of the city in which the sex industry prospers. Yet this work of geometric abstraction easily transcends these all-too apparent cultural references, providing an immersive work that bathes room and visitor alike in a warm red glow that dazzles and charms visual perception. More broadly, the work amply demonstrates how light art invariably radiates effects beyond the symbolic.kosooth

Joseph Kosooth, an early pioneer of the approach, joins other artists that feature in a room devoted to neon works that foreground language and text. His iconic work from 1965, Neon, blurs the distinction between an object and the word that represents it – since the word seems to be rendered in the very material that it describes.  However, what masquerades as a cool white illuminated form produced by neon is in fact filled with another gas, namely argon. Thus the sign does not in reality represent the word that it features.

The exhibition continues until January 7th  2017, and visitors are advised to include this masterful show in any outing to Blackpool Illuminations or a trip to sample the resort’s  many vernacular charms.

October 24th, 2016 - 20:37pm

Natural Forms in the City: Shells, Reefs, Trees and Dandelions at Leeds Light Night

On the 6th and 7th of October, with over 60 events across the city over two nights, the crowded streets revealed how much Leeds Light Night’s audiences enjoy the range of installations, projections and happenings on show. With  something for everyone, whether the lantern parade tradition or grand digital spectacle, this year’s programme was packed full of family-friendly, outdoor fun.

Setting an event against the night-sky might aim to fill it with light. I found the opposite attractive:  I was taken in by small scale and natural form more than the larger pieces.


On a dry, clear night.The Handmade Lantern parade launched the festival with a water-inspired theme. Hundreds of people had lovingly made and wielded their own aquatic lanterns, complemented by large showpiece designs; conch shells-on-stilts, an animated tortoise and surreal fish riding bicycles. Lantern bearers were joined by thousands of onlookers who jostled for views or ran alongside the parade. The playfulness of the crowd melded with the striking drum patterns provided by World Beaters and their Spark! Show which led the parade through the bustling city centre, attracting more people as it moved along.


The Indestructible Reef, by Alison M Smith exuded much charm if you relaxed for a few minutes in its glowing company.  The work is made from re-cycled plastic and solicited consideration of all that subterranean wonders currently so appallingly threatened across our oceans. The lush and loving detail in this piece were juxtaposed with warnings of global reef collapse.


The Giant Dandelions at Merrion Gardens took a bit longer to woo me. At 7.30pm they were a pretty playground for young families, and happy as I was to  enjoy the atmosphere they inspired, I was after a more intense experience. When I walked through three hours later, I was rewarded for my patience; they had seemingly grown in size in glowing against the darker sky of the later hour. The illuminated St. Johns Church had also loomed into the night sky to provide a theatrical back-drop, and a late-night audience now contemplated life within a forest of lustrous orbs.


Having earlier chatted briefly to Tom Dykevere, I was intrigued at how his enthusiastic energy and worldly openness might personify his installation, Apparatus Florius. Designed for Park Square, it created a geometric structure which intersected the natural form of trees by connecting them with high-viz ropes illuminated with spotlights. An abstract soundscape, syncopated with choreographed lighting, created a mystical conversation within an intimate arboreal canopy.

Torn by the opposing need to to rush around to see as much as possible and the desire to relax into the experience, I was glad to find serenity in the pieces I saw.

By Gail Skelly

October 10th, 2016 - 21:39pm

Pudong: Before and after 10pm

The gigantic city of Shanghai has become something of a quintessential symbol of the rising urbanization of China. From the promenade that lies adjacent to the Bund, the long row of European buildings constructed during colonial times, the skyscrapers of Pudong, on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River, provide an illuminated spectacle that has become something of a cliché in contemporary representations of China’s surging globalization and development.shanghai-before-10-copy

This vertical  city can also be viewed from within, from the viewing gallery on the 100th floor of the World Financial Tower, which dwarfs the Jin Mao Tower and the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower that lie in the foreground, with the river and Bund serving as the backdrop. However, due to energy saving measures, many of the lights of these lofty buildings are extinguished at 10pm, transforming the  appearance of nocturnal Pudong. The two photographs show the view from the observation gallery before and after the lights are switched off, underscoring how illumination marks the nightly rhythms of the city. They also provide an intriguing aesthetic contrast, with the thick black shadows of the Jin Mao and Pearl Towers providing shapely dark forms silhouetted against the blaze of urban light when minutes before they served as dazzling, colourful points of attention. shanghai-after-10-copy

September 26th, 2016 - 21:26pm

The soon-to-disappear lighthouse

Lighthouses have been a crucial  fixture in showing the safety of land to those at sea, often acting as a guiding light to the imperilled mariner. In times when very little illumination was perceptible after dark, it is now difficult to imagine the impact that the beam of the lighthouse would have had as it cut through the gloom. While most lighthouses are now automatically operated and still remain important in guiding ships at night, they have been supplemented by GPS and satellite technologies. In addition, they are increasingly the object of nostalgia, and serve as holiday homes, heritage sites and art galleries.  One lighth ouse on Denmark’s north west Skaggerrat coast has not got long to go. The tall Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse was first lit in 1900, was the home of three lighthouse keepers, and was once equipped with its own gasworks to fuel the illumination and foghorn. When it was first built, the lighthouse was 200 metres inland but over time, the sea has eroded the fragile cliffs and moved ever closer to the building. Simultaneously, the wind has blown the huge sand dunes that now surround and engulf the lighthouse, where formerly there were none. At times, these dunes obscured the landscape from the sea and muffled the sound of the foghorn, and in 1968, the lighthouse ceased to operate, subsequently hosting a museum devoted to explaining sand drift. Eventually, this also became susceptible to sand incursion and closed.swamped

The lighthouse now provides a compelling spectacle with its high white tower entirely surrounded by large dunes. The local authority has recently inaugurated a new staircase that allows visitors to climb to the top of the building to witness the dramatic scenery and pay homage to the lighthouse in its last few years. At present, a different form of light currently shines with the installation of a huge kaleidoscope that casts a dancing sea of light inside the tower as it reflects the sun’s rays, a ghostly reminder of the long extinguished, powerful beam that once cut across the sea. A wind powered prism catches natural light and reflects it down a mirror lined shaft around which the staircase winds. It is anticipated that this attraction will have a short lifespan, for the lighthouse is expected to succumb to tidal incursion by 2023.rujberg-kaliedoscope




September 22nd, 2016 - 08:55am



September 12th, 2016 - 14:28pm