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Light Research @ MMU

The Seasonal Lights of Manhattan

Manhattan is legendary for the numerous illuminations that continue to enchant the most modern city of New York, and they have been captured by innumerable photographers, artists and filmakers. Most celebrated are the lights of the city’s nocturnal slihouette viewed from Brooklyn, the buildings geometrically studded with changing configurations of lit windows, and the multiple screens that cover the vertical surfaces of Times Square, blaring commodities, celebrities and television shows in an endlessly changing postmodern collage that distracts and confuses vision. There are the brightly illuminated landmarks of the Empire State Building, New York Life Insurance Building, One World Trade Centre and Chrysler Building that provide orientation. And at Christmas time, the illuminated window displays of Macy’s and other department stores lure large crowds of onlookers after nightfall as does the renowned Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Centre with is saturated festoons of lighting. However, I want to focus on three less famous attractions that were sited in Manhattan’s public spaces this year.

Xmas tree and Menora

Firstly, the World’s Largest Menora, celebrating the Jewish festival of Hannukah, lies at 5th Avenue and 49th Street, but rather than featuring this illuminated icon, I have included an image of the Christmas Tree at Wall Streeet at which a Menora is also situated, underscoring the multi-faith character of New York City as well as the ways in which many religions ritualistically deploy light to convey a host of symbolic meanings.New York Light

Secondly, I have included  the temporary installation New York Light, created by design company Inaba. Situated at the Flatiron Plaza next to Madison Square, this steel tube sculpture incorporates flashing LEDs that illuminate the cellular structure and are reflected by mirrored panels. Visitors can enter the enclosing form of the sculpture to experience a discrete calm space in the midst of busy traffic and pedestrian traffic flows, or they can step back and experience views that draw in the skyline, including the Empire State Building. The work convincingly transforms a familiar landscape so as to make it strange. It reconfigures the relationship of the square with surrounding buildings, and in attracting photographers, locals and tourists, it powerfully reanimates this well-known public space at night.giant lights

Thirdly, since 2010, a giant string of 31 vintage Christmas lights  has been installed during the festive period in front of the McGraw Hill Building on 6th Avenue, and they are now fitted with LED illumination. Together with the equally giant baubles that lie next to them, these striking lights were devised by PRG Scenic Technologies and designers from the American Christmas company. As enormous replicas of familiar everyday objects, they recall the gigantic modernist sculptures of Claes Oldenburg.

December 31st, 2014 - 18:18pm

Celebrating the Lights of Christmas 2014

This site has always warmed to the efforts of professional and amateur light designers that put on a  Yuletide show. Christmas is the time of year when in accordance with ancient rhythms, the gloomy months are transformed by the deployment of bright lights to exterior and interior spaces. In many parts of the world, the holiday season continues to herald an ever-growing display of festive illuminations that include a variety of arrangements: indoor lights with which we garland Christmas trees and interior spaces, the festoons of strings of animated bulbs and illuminated figures that adorn house exteriors, and the large spectacles that festoon the streets and squares of city centre districts in endeavouring to attract shoppers and tourists to part with their money. This year has seen a particularly striking effusion of Christmas lighting, as exemplified by four extraordinary examples from different parts of the world. Let’s celebrate them!

First, and exemplifying how Christmas is a time of magnificent excess, is the amazing choreographed sequences that are synchronised with selective pieces of festive music. Devised by Jeff Maxey at Yucaipa, California, the display incorporates 16 houses in creating an incredible son et lumière show

Second, the lights of Tokyo offer a different aesthetic to the multi-coloured effects of other cities but the quantity utilised produced whole landscapes that are saturated with festive spirit.

tokyo christmas lights










Third, the growing emergence of digital mapping at Christmas is exemplified at Trieste, where a 12 minute, festive themed projection sequence plays across the façade of the Municipal Centre in Piazza Unità:

Finally, in Derby at a suburban house at which a larger than life Santa inside greets onlookers from outside. Slightly spooky but fun

santa in Derby


December 16th, 2014 - 16:38pm

Illuminating York 2014: three art works

The annual Illuminating York light festival took place from 29th October to 1st November 2014. As well as featuring a couple of projections on some of the many magnificent, historic buildings in the city, a number of light artworks were installed across its medieval centre, transforming the ways in which this heavily visited, iconic tourist city was experienced at night. Ritchard Allaway and Luc Jones created a light sculpture that evocatively displayed the textures of concrete, situated in a green, meditative setting adjacent to the magnificent cathedral.

york 1Close by, Joanne Geldard installed an illuminated greenhouse etched with scenes from the unheralded edgelands and waste sites that surround the contemporary city, the greenhouse itself representing a fixture that signifies a blurring of the rural-urban divide.

york 2

And in King’s Square, Twist Design situated The Wheels of Industry, a car fitted with stained glass windows that could be illuminated by pedalling on an adjacent stationary bicycle. Though heralding the potential for more sustainable forms of power generation, the work simultaneously honoured the disappearing heavy industries and industrial cultures that pervaded the northern cities of England.

york 3


November 4th, 2014 - 12:46pm

Gertrude Street Festival part 2: Objects, Materials and Associations

Several of the projections at the GSPF use objects or unexpected surfaces, exploring materiality and its transformation through projected images and patterns. Olaf Meyer’s The People’s Car, parked a few metres down a sidestreet, is a 1968 white Volkswagen Beetle with digitally mapped projected designs that flicker, undulate and turn. Swirly stripes alternate with dynamic go-faster patterns and blocked colours that emphasise the shape, movement and psychedelic associations of the iconic car.Gertrude 5

On a smaller scale, broken brickwork is piled up in a shopfront to extend the illusion of masonry being shattered with a hammer. Keith Deverell’s Foundation speaks to gentrification (an aspect of recent developments in the Gertrude Street neighborhood) and processes of demolition. A still image from the projection shows a moment of impact, with bits of actual brick arranged to appear to cascade down from the flickering light of the installation. These works move beyond treating the surfaces of buildings as screens for projection art. Instead, they extend and deepen the artworks by blurring the material and immaterial and working narrative into the pieces, telling stories of and through the objects they employ. Mounted at street level, visitors can get up close to these works, and although the mechanics of the projectors are evident, the effect is still intriguing (posted by Shanti Sumartojo).Gertrude 6


July 29th, 2014 - 13:20pm

Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Melbourne

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival, on the edge of Melbourne’s city centre, runs from 18- 28 July. Works are projected at 30 sites and the GSPF enjoys a mix of contributions from major and emerging projection artists, community engagement partners and art students. This variety gives Gertrude Street a unique excitement, as visitors move from site to site, not knowing what content, scale or materiality to expect from each installation. While some of the major works are spectacular and impressive, such as Nick Azidis’ Lighthouse, a massive projection onto the façade of a housing tower, others are invite close scrutiny and engagement.gertrude 3gertrude 2Gertrude 1











Particularly bewitching and intimate is Arika Waulu’s Young Blood, projections into large glass jars hung around eye level in a shop window. The faces in the jars had been filmed underwater, and the vitrine surface of the glass enhanced the impression of submerged movement. Eerie and beautiful, one visitor described it as ‘pickled heads’. The macabre effect was enhanced by a large taxidermy zebra head behind it in the shop. Posted by Shanti Sumartojo

Gertrude 4

July 23rd, 2014 - 10:30am