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Light Research @ MMU

Progress Illuminated in Blackpool

In current times, Blackpool is a seaside resort more typically associated with the past, perhaps through a nostalgic lens. However, two outstanding place-specific art works installed as part of the town’s Lightpool Festival (http://www.blackpool-illuminations.net/LightPoolWalk.htm) suggest how the town was once particularly future-oriented. In making works especially designed for the occasion, Mark Titchner reminds onlookers of how Blackpool was once a hotspot of modernism and forward thinking. plenty-and-progress

His Plenty and Progress and What Use is Life Without Progress recall that the motto of the town is PROGRESS. This was never an empty boast, and was underpinned by a range of historical developments: the construction of the remarkable Tower, the early use of electric light, the early adoption of a tram system, and the mechanical marvels and rides that still enthral visitors to the Pleasure Beach. Plenty and Progress is projected onto the façade of the Town Hall and these words are surrounded by a shifting myriad of animated light designs, foregrounding how the resort’s illuminations are also part of this modern thrust, and refuting contemporary prejudices that modernism was invariably austere and functional.  The inference is that Progress is productive of plenty, not just of food, commodities and work, but also plenty of pleasures too. The colourful embellishments also recall the beautiful neon illuminations that adorned the seafront in the 1920s and 30s, with their clear lines and curves, notably conjuring up the designs of Claudegan, whose designs on paper can presently be viewed in the Grundy Art Gallery. progress

Facing the seafront, the larger work, What Use is Life Without Progress, offers a bleaker, more insistent message, in which progress is conversely associated with compulsion and instrumentality. The very form of the display evokes an authoritarian form of propaganda issued by the state, urging citizens to strive for improvement. Two very satisfying and provocative works.

 

October 31st, 2016 - 11:55am

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.

spark

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.

indestructible-reef

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.

giant-dandelions

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.

apparatus-florius

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

Matlock Bath Illuminations 2015

Matlock Bath Illuminations run each weekend throughout early September to late October. Attracting around 100,000 visitors annually to this small Victorian holiday resort in England’s Peak District, the central attraction of the event is a parade of locally designed illuminated and decorated boats. Throngs of spectators crowd each bank of the wooded valley of the River Derwent. On the side that lies adjacent to the town, a fairground and food stalls cater to the thousands of visitors, while the other side is arboreal and darker. At an assigned time, the ten or eleven boats, all made by members of the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders’ Association, move into position and one by one turn on their lights as their designers row down the river.Matlock Dr Who

The event was first held to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and to honour these earlier displays, a candle-lit boat continues to make its way down the Derwent at the start of the parade. The illuminations on the boats are primarily created via simple bulbs and LEDs, some animated, are powered by lorry batteries, and are co-ordinated to evoke designs drawn from popular culture. They utterly transform what is by day a romantic riverside walk, their bright lights reflecting in the dark waters, seeming to glide past independently.The designs are judged and the winning boat is awarded the Arkwright Cup.Matlock Eiffel Tower

For 2015, the victor was Mickey’s Steam Boat, a design featuring Mickey Mouse and his paddle steamer. Other designs included the Eiffel Tower, a space ship battle, Postman Pat, the Batmobile, and a Tardis and Dalek from Dr Who. This vernacular festival highlights the innovations and creative energies of those who use lighting to create vernacular, festive designs, creations about which this blog is particularly enthusiastic  Matlock Thunderbird

October 25th, 2015 - 19:04pm

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

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