skip to content | Accessibility Information

Light Research @ MMU

Atmospheric installation in industrial Melbourne

Over three summer nights (22-24 January), a team of three artists and one geographer (Fiona Hillary, Jordan Lacey, Eliot Palmer and Shanti Sumartojo) set out to explore atmosphere through a three-day ‘site-responsive’ artwork in Melbourne, part of artist Dagmara Gieysztor’s 3 month residency courtesy of Maribyrnong council, contain yourself.

Melbourne - view of bunbury street bridge - smallThe installation took place in two shipping containers located adjacent to a heavy freight rail bridge, which crossed the Maribryong River to reach a giant container yard. Our response to the site used light, sound and vibration. Jordan Lacey has blogged about the sound here (, but light also played a crucial part.
Melbourne - view of two containers in daylight - smallThere were two illuminated elements to the work. The neon aspect consisted of different lengths and colours that were hung in a bright sketch that recalled the lines of the site. The effect in the daytime was of distinct rods of colour, gentle but vivid. As the twilight turned to evening, however, the neon appeared to grow in strength and luminosity, and the colours became more immersive. The neon blended and mixed, sometimes pulsating gently in response to the vibrations. Glowing colour
Melbourne - view of neon with bike - small The second use of light came with projections of photographs. These captured the subtle textures and patterns of the site that can easily slip out of conscious noticing. Images of paving, cobblestones, weeds, the patina of the rusted steel bridge, tree bark and rippled river water quietly glowed in a low corner. Like the neon, the images only became clearly visible as the light changed, hinting at the quotidian transformation of day to night that shape our experience and perception of space.Melbourne - view of projectionVisitors stepped in and out of the open container, sometimes looking at the neon, sometimes looking out at the view across the river, which had its own lightscape to enjoy. The installation thus drew on its sensory surroundings for inspiration, blending with and into its spatial context.


Melbourne - view of container yard - small

February 12th, 2015 - 10:23am

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.


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).


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.


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.












Hilary Orange, UCL Institute of Archaeology,

January 23rd, 2015 - 13:30pm

A temporary and permeable border of light: Berlin’s Lichtgrenze

Posted by Josiane Meier

From November 7-9 2014, Berlin celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall with a light installation that first retraced and then re-erased the structure that separated the two parts of the city from 1961 to 1989. The “Lichtgrenze” – literally the „border of light“ – created by Christopher and Marc Bauder, a media artist and a film director, was composed of some 8.000 white balloons made of natural rubber that were tethered to the ends of slender carbon poles. LEDs mounted at the top of the poles gave the large balloons the appearance of being illuminated from within. Placed in an accurate line following some 15 km of the path of the Wall (not as straight as one might expect), they resembled a string of big pearls hanging in the night air.

Lichtgrenze-Norweger-StrThe Lichtgrenze provided an occasion for thousands of Berliners and visitors to engage in a sort of massive night hike along the former border. Through this, what might be considered quite a static installation was transformed into an interactive monument: people weaved between the lights, occasionally stopping to take pictures, give one of the poles a push to make it sway, to chat or puzzle over whether they were now standing in what was once the East or the West. At intervals along the way, people gathered to watch historic film footage projected on screens and paused to read stories that brought to life the Wall’s gravely threatening qualities.


Lichtgrenze-Brücke-v-untenEvery so often, the Lichtgrenze was complemented by informal lighting interventions, such as a group of memorial candles placed at the head of Schwedter Steg (a narrow bridge), and incidental illuminations, such as the sodium-vapour streetlight that illuminated the translucent portraits of the Wall’s victims at the memorial site at Bernauer Straße. These small – and generally not very bright – spots of light that accompanied the formal installation may or may not have been part of the plan; they certainly greatly deepened my experience by embedding the perfect-looking border of light in its imperfect context.

Lichtgrenze - Schwedter-Steg-sm

Having noticed the lights’ cool bluish hue, I was somewhat surprised to read later on that the balloons were not only intended to remind people of the dimensions of the wall, but also to symbolise the candles carried by many during the peaceful revolution in the autumn of 1989. While the cool light didn’t exactly create a candle-light atmosphere, it was likely a good choice in this case as it allowed for the luminous border to set itself apart from the significantly warmer-toned street lights. The installation was even clearly discernible from high in the air.








After being in place for two nights and two days, the installation culminated in its own dissolution: each helium-filled balloon was released into the night by its very own “Ballonpate” or “balloon patrons” following an orchestrated sequence. The balloons carried with them cards containing messages from their patrons. Unfortunately, it was quite difficult to keep track of the balloons as they went up: no longer lit from within, they immediately all but disappeared against the overcast sky, which had a glow all of its own from the city’s lights. I wonder how it would have been if the architectural illuminations and bright billboards (I hardly dare say the street lighting…) had been switched off for the half hour during which the balloons were released. Against a somewhat darker sky, they might have stood a better chance.



November 12th, 2014 - 13:06pm

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

Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra in London, August 2014

From the 4th to the 11th of August residents of London and visitors could witness an ambitious  light installation that commemorated the start of hostilities in World War One. Sited in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster, Spectra, designed by Ryoji Ikeda, was formed by a twenty-metre grid containing forty-nine searchlights that blazed each night from at dusk to dawn. The work could be seen from far away, well beyond the city, and from a distance seemed to constitute a single column of vivid white light, ascending some 15 miles into the night sky. Variations of Ikeda’s installation have appeared in several other cities and yet in each location, new associations and relationships are forged. Most obviously, the symbolic commemoration of war conjured up the searchlights that criss-crossed London in earlier conflicts, and many reviews referred to the famous remark of Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary of that era: ‘The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our life-time’.spectra1

And yet the powerful beam also suggested other resemblances: to lighthouses, the double beams installed in New York to commemorate the loss of the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, or the searchlights that revolve around cloudy skies to attract those seeking theatrical or musical entertainment. As the source of the beam was neared, it interacted with, and made strange, the gothic towers of the Houses of Parliament, and the surrounding trees.

Yet when the park was entered and all searchlights were separately visible, the work took on an entirely different aspect. Each separate beam reaching vertically upward in the night sky, created a horizontal sequence that framed the Palace, the trees and the moon, and you could walk into the midst of a giant enclosing cube of shafts of light. spectra5

Remarkably, the work attracted hundreds of people, and at the site of the origin of the beams, the sober qualities of commemorating war were replaced by a carnivalesque, excitable frenzy of movement and chatter. People moved amongst the luminaires, waving their arms or craning necks so that radiant faces leered above the searchlights, taking photographs of themselves and each other. Others adopted a less playful, more meditative disposition, lying on the grass, some drinking wine, staring upwards into the disappearing points of light, as they converged in a single beam miles above. The unreal atmosphere was augmented by the electronic pulses of the minimal music composed by Ikeda that drifted across the park. The scene changed according to the movement of clouds, and must have dramatically transformed when the rain came the day after our visit.spectra4spectra2

And not only people were attracted by the light. For each beam was saturated with millions of insects and moths, which with the infinite, swirling dusk particles, revealed that the capital’s air was not some transparent substance but replete with matter and life.spectra3

August 15th, 2014 - 14:29pm