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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

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN WHITE NIGHT

Melbourne is brought to life during White Night as over half a million people surge into the city centre for an all-night display of light, music and carousing. These crowds are invited to enjoy an array of attractions, comprising various installations, projections and performances. However, some critics assume that large light festivals offer a spectacle that is passively consumed by bedazzled onlookers. This was emphatically not the case at White Night. First of all, certain installations solicit the participation of visitors, without whom they would not be invigorating. Carla O’Brien’s Angel Wings encourage people to position themselves between two large illuminated wings and assume a heavenly pose for the camera, while Pierre Ardouvin’s installation, Purple Rain, devised in homage to popular music icon Prince, entreats visitors to collect a transparent umbrella and walk through a fine purple rain, an experience accentuated by the venue of the event: the narrow Little Lonsdale Street, with its tall buildings and reflecting wet tarmac.

Secondly, numerous festival-goers dress up for the occasion, some wearing absurd wigs or glamorous clothes, others clutching light sabres or adorning themselves with illuminated headgear. These participants significantly contribute to the festive atmosphere of White Night; they are an integral part of its success.

Thirdly, putting themselves firmly in the picture were around 100 protestors who were campaigning against the city’s rather harsh rough sleeping laws. Assembled across the forecourt of the State Library of Victoria upon the façade of which a colourful projection played, they chanted and sang, held aloft banners, brandished an illuminated sign, ‘No Homeless Ban’ and occasionally projected the same slogan across the portico of the library. In hijacking the display, they thoroughly contributed to the sense of event while powerfully making their point.

February 20th, 2017 - 04:42am

FIRE AND FASCINATION IN CARLTON GARDENS

For me, the Carlton Gardens offered the most exciting experiences of Melbourne’s White Night. The south-facing façade of the venerable Royal Exhibition Building provided a superb screen for the captivating projection Rhythms of the Night by Sydney based Artists in Motion. The Southern edge of the park hosted the enticing Sonic Light Bubble by Iness and Tim Newman’s ever-changing Pixel Tree. But I was particularly lured to the Melbourne Museum Plaza. Situated here was the wonderful Nebulous, a pulsing, kinetic sculpture designed by Alex Sanson, a.k.a. Metaform, a strange cyborgian entity that seems to be both organic and mechanical. The intricate frame of the spherical creature, formed from delicate steel spokes and large, shiny sequins, slowly expanded and contracted, offering a quiet, mesmerising counterpoint to the wild Pyrophone Juggernaut some 300 metres away.

The Pyrophone Juggernaut, a futuristic ship assembled from junkyard metal and plastic lay enigmatically quiescent as coloured light played across its strange form. Suddenly though, a giant flame shot skywards from the mast and six riotous crew members clambered aboard to bring it to life, producing an unearthly, cacophonous music and a whirl of movement. The large freight liner alloy wheels and gongs were percussively thrashed as the three steel pipe organs that formed the ship’s sails emitted deep, resonant moans. These primeval sounds were generated by fire, that most elemental of light sources, projected from propane torches and shooting out of the top of the tubes. Swathed in ever-shifting colours of projected light, swirling dry ice and surging flames, the juggernaut is an awesome, compelling spectacle that conjures up both a post-apocalyptic future and an ancient, tribal pre-history.

 

February 20th, 2017 - 04:38am

Lighting up Melbourne’s suburbs at Christmas

Melbourne’s Christmas lights shine brightly across its suburbs, installed by householders to bring a seasonal splash of colour, animation and illumination. Unlike the Christmas lights that adorn the exteriors of British houses that we studied back in 2009 (see Edensor, T. and Millington, S. (2009a) ‘Illuminations, class identities and the contested landscapes of Christmas’, Sociology 43(1): 103–121), most of these houses are owned by middle class residents and do not seem to suffer the abuse meted out by others, who deride them and their inhabitants as tacky, irresponsible, showy, wasteful and worse. Instead, the displays are widely popular, and while in the UK they seem to be dwindling in number, in Melbourne they are expanding as a key element of the Yuletide experience. Newspapers and websites detail where the most extravagant displays can be found, and car loads of festive celebrants visit them, chatting to their creators and taking photographs and videos. They clearly demand a great deal of time and energy to arrange and establish, as well as technical expertise. These ordinary suburban houses and gardens and the streets to which they belong are transformed into sites of sociable fun and spectacle. At one upmarket street, The Boulevard, in Ivanhoe, thousands of visitors arrive each night, with many small children hoisted up to see the illuminations that garb the houses and gardens of dozens of adjacent properties, carrying on a tradition initiated by these residents of this area in the 1950s. We feature these examples to highlight the diverse forms of lighting that are employed, from the choreographed shows set to music, and others, equally animated, that rely on lighting alone.

December 27th, 2016 - 09:16am

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

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