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Light Research @ MMU

FROM LIGHT TO DARK: DAYLIGHT ILLUMINATION AND GLOOM

FINALLY…. My book has now been published by Minnesota Press!! The contents provide in-depth analysis of many of the themes discussed on this blog within three distinct sections: daylight, illumination and darkness. More specifically, here is the chapter outline:

Part I. Light
1. Seeing with Landscape, Seeing with Light
2. Under the Dynamic Sky: Living and Creating with Light
Part II. Illumination
3. Electric Desire: Lighting the Vernacular and Illuminating Nostalgia
4. Caught in the Light: Power, Inequality, and Illumination
5. Festivals of Illumination: Painting and Playing with Light
6. Staging Atmosphere: Public Extravaganzas and Homely Designs
Part III. Dark
7. Nocturnes: Changing Meanings of Darkness
8. The Re-enchantment of Darkness: The Pleasures of Noir
Conclusion: The Novelty of Light and the Value of Darkness

The book can be accessed at http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk/from-light-to-dark

It’s reasonably priced!!

March 27th, 2017 - 03:40am

Terror in the dark

This blog has celebrated the positive qualities offered by darkness, focusing on the enhanced conviviality, heightened non-visual sensations, interaction with the landscape and imagination that can be solicited by various encounters with gloom and complete blackness. However, chiming with prehistoric and medieval terrors of the crepuscular in eras of pervasive superstition and fear of malign forces, are the more modern attractions of the ghost train and the horror movie, in which such residual fears are transmuted into the carnivalesque delights of the fairground and the movie theatre. Here, darkness retains its capacity to invoke agreeable terror. A growing number of attractions, based on early modern dark rides and walks, utilize darkness to produce an intense, hilarious and pleasurably managed form of terror: walks through confined dark spaces in which actors and technicians join forces to taunt and terrify visitors with a medley of effects. An excellent example is The Fear Factory, situated on a busy street in the bustling tourist setting of Queenstown in New Zealand’s beautiful South Island.

Our party of three entered a red door and instantly pressed a button to dim the lights and install complete darkness, utter blackness except for the small red light – little more than an illuminated dot – that we were instructed to follow along a complicated sequence of twisting corridors. Advised to hold on to each other as we haltingly made our way through the labyrinthine path, tense hands gripped shoulders or midriffs. Right from the start, as we were plunged into darkness, very loud, sharp explosions frightened us into an attentive wariness. Very soon, complete darkness was interrupted by the hideous masked faces of clowns, horned devils and beasts that unexpectedly appeared inches away and which continued to intermittently materialize for the duration of the journey. So sudden were these apparitions that they were difficult to assimilate, as they loomed into view and immediately disappeared. In any case, there was no time for reflection, or to gather thoughts, for the body braced itself for the next shock: we could never be certain of when they would once more flash out of the darkness to jolt us. The attraction works through continual anticipation. The blackness also works to conceal the origin of grotesque appeals and lamentations from unseen presences, sometimes whispers that entered the ear from very close by, along with creaks, clanks and deeper dismal sounds. These wails and soft entreaties were supplemented by hands touching fingers, grasping at feet and brushing across hair and ears, and an enhanced tactile awareness is intensified by suddenly uneven and unstable flooring, strands of hanging material and mild electric shocks that further disorientated the body, which could never be prepared for what was coming next. The frenzy of shocks that continuously confronted passage through these pitch black channels fostered a giddy delirium, as infectious laughter and shrieks produced an intensely communal experience. We blundered through a door blinking into the light, back at the point of entry, suffused with relief that the shocks were at an end, utterly confounded about the length of time and distance, or number of people who had tormented us in the gloomy corridors. Apparently about one in 7 visitors never make it to the finish – they chicken out before the end.

Darkness is thus a condition that offers diverse possibilities for animators, architects, light designers and actors to offer experiences that imaginatively disorder the usual experiences of the visual world. These brief engagements take us back to older fears that are easily rekindled by a host of associations and familiar figures from popular culture that linger to ensure that darkness remains scary, in this sense, pleasurably so.

December 16th, 2016 - 16:21pm

Two special issues: ‘Geographies of Darkness’ and ‘Sensing and Perceiving with Light and Dark’

Two special issues of academic journals have been published in the last few weeks, both edited by Tim Edensor at MMU.

Firstly, Cultural Geographies features a themed issue on ‘Geographies of Darkness’. http://cgj.sagepub.com/content/current

Pip Thornton elaborates on her work as a soldier on the Iraq battlefield and the her experience of the British Military deployment of lighting, night vision equipment and darkness. These strategies exemplify the lop-sided power relations between the two forces on the battlefield. Pip’s work is previously featured on this blog: http://www.lightresearch.mmu.ac.uk/light-discipline-bodies-and-power-on-the-battlefield. Robert Shaw discusses how darkness in the home may be experienced positively or negatively, may be a source of insecurity but also a condition that fosters intimacy, conviviality and an oppenness to the other. Also featured on this blog is Tim Edensor and Emily Falconer’s research at Dans Le Noir, the London restaurant that invites people to dine in the dark: http://www.lightresearch.mmu.ac.uk/dans-le-noir. Again, darkness is  ambivalent, enhancing the taste of food, soliciting social interaction and providing a sense of mystery and imagination for some; a site of confusion and peril for others. Oliver Dunnett focuses upon the moral geographies that have been mobilized in the establishment of dark sky parks in the UK, and foreground an ‘astronomical sublime’ and the desirability of the rural in opposition to the urban. Finally, Phillip Vannini and Jonathan Taggart look at how Canadian off-gridders  who move away from modern living to dwell in the wilderness , must generate their own source of illumination using modest technologies that only provide some light and necessitate a more habitual encounter with the gloom that has been banished from most cities.

Secondly, The Senses and Society features a special issue on ‘Sensing and Perceiving with Light and Dark’ which focuses upon various forms of Light Art. http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfss20/10/2

Tim Edensor looks at the work of James Turrell, Carlos Cruz Diez, Olafur Eliasson and Tino Seghal, all of whose work is discussed more briefly on this blog. Harriet Hawkins explores the sensuous light art of Pipilotti Rist through a feminist lens, and Shanti Sumartojo and Sarah Barns investigate the atmospheres produced at a projection event on the buildings at Australia’s National niversity in Canberra. Johanne Sloan explores the impact of three light works: Michel de Broin’s giant mirrorball suspended above the streets of Paris, Phillip Parreno’s nostalgic cinematic marquees, and the illuminated lanterns of Weppler and Mahovsky that masqueraded as commodities in the shop fronts of a Toronto street. Elena Papadaki focuses upon Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s extraordinary’ Under Scan’, situated in Trafalgar Square, that used powerful lights to produce shadows of passers-by into which were projected the images of other people, as well as Gregory Markopoulos’ ‘Eniaios’, a film projected onto a vast screen situated in a dark Greek Valley. Finally, Joni Palmer elaborates upon the more vernacular creation of a Glass Garden in New Mexico that reflects the light of this luminous landscape, as featured in an earlier entry on this blog: http://www.lightresearch.mmu.ac.uk/ardell-scartaccini-new-mexico-glass-garden

 

 

 

October 19th, 2015 - 14:53pm

Burning away the Winter Blues in Yukon

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On 22nd of March this year, in a part of the world where winter throws darkness across space for a prolonged period of time, the Whitehorse community in Yukon, staged a festival devised by the Yukon Educational Theatre to celebrate the impending end of winter and the advent of Spring,  the 17th Burning Away the Winter Blues. burningweb3

As the seasons turn, people are invited to join a torch-lit procession along the Yukon River, with drumming, singing and effigies created by individuals and local artists. The marchers subsequently congregate around a bonfire upon which the effigies are thrown along with the winter blues of the participants, written on pieces of paper and collected in blue paper bags, and follow this with dancing and celebrations. http://yukoneducationaltheatre.com/#burning-away-the-winter-blues (Thanks to Paul Davis)burningweb12

 

April 7th, 2015 - 14:26pm

Night-time Factory Tourism in Japan

I wondered how long the tour would take that night. An hour, perhaps two I guessed. I was in Japan researching a phenomenon called Kojo Moe (factory love), a trend that had emerged after the publication in 2007 of a photo book, Kojo Moe-F Background Reference Book, on heavy industry. The book has a guide to viewing different types of factories, from chemical plants to steel works, cement works and gantry cranes. The tour that evening began, like others I had been on, at the city port. Night time factory viewing (Kojo Yakei) is usually done from the decks of a boat. Kojo Yakei forms a growing aspect of Japanese tourism, and private tour operators and city municipalities have developed a number of organised bus and boat tours to meet demand. Data compiled in 2014 by the Department of Civil Engineering at Kinki University in Osaka detailed 31 factory tours operating in 17 cities. The densest concentration of tours is, unsurprisingly, in the Kanto region that encompasses the heavily industrialized coastal zones of Yokohama and Kawasaki. The tours can sell out for months in advance. When I had enquired at JNTOs (Japan National Tourism Organizations) in Tokyo City about visiting industrial sites, I was given a list of museums of technology and industry. As a foreigner, I am not the target audience for these tours. Kojo Yakei is marketed at Japanese city-dwellers and participants are mainly groups of young Japanese women and then some older men.

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Kojo Yakei is promoted as a social experience, a night-out, and not as an educational or informational tour.  Some cruises provide buffet dinners, others cocktails. What they all offer is a spectacle. An alternate son et lumière to the neon and electric cityscape.  At night security lights, office lights, portacabin lights and perimeter lights illuminate industrial megastructures on a Blade Runner scale. Smoke rising from chimney stacks adds to the effect. On one boat tour in March it snowed but we still stood out on the deck trying to take as many photos as possible. Kojo Yakei offers what we in the West call the industrial sublime and on these nights I am factory struck (not love struck or star struck).

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The boats tend to slow down and stop opposite particularly well-lit structures (sometimes accompanied by clapping and cheering) before bypassing dark factories for another illuminated colossus. It is difficult to take good photographs from a rocking, moving boat in low light. I spent much time on the first few tours experimenting with different camera settings and these sets of photos are mostly light strobed images or blurry shots. Very few take serious camera kit on these tours, but the boats slow down to enable participants to take photos, as best they can, with their smart phones, or to capture a factory selfie. The photography is an important element of the social experience of the tour. I plan to take photographs from the shore of the Kojo Yakei boats going past, lit up by the cabin light and the flickers of light from smartphones.

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Most boat tours take an hour. However, a boat and bus tour around Himeji city was four hours long. The bus pulled up opposite a spectacular chemical plant and we spent around 20 minutes taking photographs through the wire fencing. The plant next door was in darkness and no one was paying it any attention. I strolled down the road the short distance to take a look at it. The bus driver must have noticed my interest for when I returned to the group he said to me ‘we have asked them to put their lights on for us.’ An examination of the relationship between the factories and the tour operators forms part of my future research plans.

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Hilary Orange, UCL Institute of Archaeology, h.orange@ucl.ac.uk

January 23rd, 2015 - 13:30pm

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