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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

The Power of Candlelight

free to be 2On the evening of 19th January, Durham Cathedral  held an event labelled Free To Be, in which much of the lower areas of the building were illuminated by candlelight. Upon entering the cathedral, visitors could experience an atmosphere and setting staged to solicit prayer and meditation, and become absorbed in the large expanses or in smaller spaces, ‘walking, pausing, watching and listening for God as you like’, as the hand-out advised. Dimmed lights illuminated the upper reaches and roof of the building in a pale grey wash, contrasting with the yellowish, warm glow of the candles that lined the nave and aisles, and clustered in other places. Cathedrals are designed to manipulate light and dark in sophisticated ways. During this event, the capacious interior could be experienced in an entirely different way to how it is apprehended in daylight, by which numerous shafts of sunlight flit across the gloom of the space, cutting shards of light into floors and walls, and stained glass casts glows with saturated colour. Instead, soft candlelight chimed with  the mellow qualities of the stone, revealing the smoothness of carefully chiselled newer sections as well as  ancient surfaces, pocked and hollowed through the ages.

Free to be1

Deep shadows also focused attention on tracery, niches and sculptures, and foregrounded the theatrical layers that extended through the linear expanse of the cathedral, with rood screens, pillars and choir stalls forming darker sections that divided lighter spaces. A harp player added to the contemplative mood, tumbling notes resonating through this glowing realm, and along with incense, she contributed to a rich multi-sensual experience, conjured through the simple deployment of a form of lighting that would have illuminated the cathedral in earlier times.

free to be 3

January 20th, 2014 - 16:10pm

The Lights of Lobethal

The Lights of Lobethalis a Christmas festival taking place in December for over 60 years in the idylic South Australian township of Lobethal, near Adelaide. Around 700 private homes and businesses are festooned with traditional Christmas lighting and themes, an event which attracts an estimated 250,000 visitors.Visitors are encouraged to follow light trails around the town or to take special bus tours.slideshows_about05

The roots of the festival can be traced to 19th century German heritage and reflects traditional Christian values associated with Christmas. The Lights of Lobethal, therefore, are seen as the town’s gift to the community and the world. Since 1994, however, the lights have been subject to formal organisation and corporate sponsorship, establishing a problematical distance from the community led events of previous days.


Winchester, H.P.M.a, Rofe, M.W.b. (2005) Christmas in the ‘Valley of Praise’: Intersections of the rural idyll, heritage and community in Lobethal, South Australia. Journal of Rural Studies, 21(3), 265-279.

May 1st, 2013 - 12:58pm

Celebration in Lights, Newport

Newport (Virginia) hosts an annual Celebration of Lights festival which ties together Thanksgiving , Christmas and New Year.  Unsually the light display is a drive-through experience located in News Park.  The park is transformed through a display of 800,000 individual lights organised over a 2 mile stretch of roadway featuring over 300 individual display pieces, including 70 “animated holiday and fanciful scences”, 43 arches, and three miles of rope lighting.  A 300ft long animated tunnel of lights forms the centrepiece of the 20th anniversary of the festival, which since 1993 has attracted over 2million visitors.  Enjoy civilwarcat’s drive through video below:

May 1st, 2013 - 08:11am

Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong is celebrated each November in Thailand based on a 13th century Sukothai tradition involving the Goddess of Water. The festival involves processions, illuminated floating tributes or Krathong, lotus shaped boats, and a spectacular lanterns launched into the night sky.

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April 30th, 2013 - 14:35pm