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Light Research @ MMU

Shadows in the Magdalen Laundry

At Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, a disused Catholic convent, now an art and community centre, an elegiac, powerful light projection, Impermanence, devised by Yandell Walton, honours the former inhabitants of the place ( In a part of the site not yet restored and blocked off from public access by a thick wire mesh screen, are the former laundries. The history of these convents has recently become somewhat notorious, especially in Ireland, and as captured in the film Philomena, because of the strict, often cruel, treatment of the young troubled, ‘fallen women’, unmarried mothers and miscreants, who ended up under the sway of the nuns who ran such places. Pre and post war, these young women worked in the laundries, carrying out their duties alongside the holy sisters.  abbotsford shadows 1


The plaster on the walls of these rooms is crumbling and much of the site lies open to the sky. Yandell’s display tracks the rapid movement of daylight across the room, and simultaneously shows the slower movements of two shadowy figures, a nun as she slowly glides along, and a more animated young woman who is running in slow motion. Discussants at the review of the piece were struck by the juxtaposition of these temporalities, one perhaps signifying the sheer routine nature of the day-to-day work of the laundry and the way in which one day was much like any other, the other rhythm showing the contrasting bodily movements of those who worked here, the sedate progress of the nun and the running girl, joyous in movement or maybe trying to escape. Impressions also focused upon the way that the unseemly wire barrier actually provided a border within which the historical resonances and atmosphere conjured up were contained, and upon the way in which the white light picked out the patina of decay on the walls, drawing attention to another temporal effect.Abbotsford shadows 2


June 18th, 2014 - 06:15am

The illuminated magic of the fairground: Sydney’s Luna Park

Despite the many charms of VIVID, for me, the most affecting light display in Sydney has been attracting residents of the city to play on the North shore of the Harbour Bridge since the 1930s. Luna Park contains reproductions of the designs from this era as well as some original features. Luna Park Face

Unlike so many traditional pleasure gardens and amusement parks that have been made over and extinguished the original features, Luna Park conveys a powerful sense of the atmosphere, allure and aesthetics that held sway in the golden age of funfairs, and captures some of the magic of illumination that earlier twentieth century urbanites must have experienced, as the city was transformed by light from a dark realm into an enchanted, uncanny phantasmagoria. Luna Park - roundabout

In his magisterial book, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialisation of Light in the Nineteenth Century. (1988), Wolfgang Schivelbusch argues that the late years of the 19thcentury to the early years of the 20th century saw a broad shift from a lighting of order to a lighting of festivity.  Such festive lighting was exemplified at theme parks such as at Coney Island where, as Gary Cross describes (in his paper ‘Crowds and leisure: thinking comparatively across the 20th century’, Journal of Social History 9(3): 631-650, 2006), ‘(the original) Luna Park and Dreamland created a dazzling architectural fantasy of towers domes and minarets, outlined by electric lights, giving these strange oriental shapes an even more mysterious and magical air at night’. Luna Park - Coney Island Funny Land

The art deco entrance to Sydney’s Luna Park, comprising two towers that border a huge face with a giant mouth through which people entered, was constructed in 1935, and has been remodelled several times due to the damaging effects of sea spray and rain. The present design derives from 1995 and is a replica of the original. Other fantasy fairground design features spread throughout the park, notably the fabulous Funny Land, a survivor from 1935 and a fabulous and rare example of a funhouse from that era.Luna Park - Funny land detail - Popeye

June 7th, 2014 - 06:19am

Mary’s Lamp: lighting the way for women and sexually diverse individuals

Lamp for Mary Source Mikala Dwyer

Lamp for Mary is a pink street light installed in 2010 to illuminate an inner city laneway, Mary’s Place, in Sydney. The light stands at a site ia which a woman named Mary was attacked and raped by two men in 1996 as a consequence of her sexuality.  One year after the brutal attack, the laneway, previously Flood Lane, was renamed Mary’s Place and a community artwork was installed. The original artwork, however, was removed during building works. In response to a community-driven campaign, City of Sydney commissioned artist Mikala Dwyer, who worked with GLBTQI community groups to reinstate a structure that protects, heals, warns and celebrates the power of survival. Acting as metaphor, the light keeps vigil for those using this place after dark, and enables this previously historically notorious, shadowy laneway to be reclaimed by women and sexually diverse individuals. While pragmatic, Mary’s Lamp also acts as a symbolic public tribute and testimony to the resilience of assault victims. The unusual large size, bright pink colour and ringed body of the structure serve to disrupt the conventional sequence of lighting along the urban laneway, motivating recognition and reflection for those using and moving through Mary’s Place. Moreover, the lamp emits a warm inviting light, with its pink shade designed to spread the emitted light across the width of the laneway. This contrasts with other streetlights in the area chosen for energy efficiency and cost, that providing a cooler, whiter hue with lower luminosity. Posted by Anna de Jong (


June 4th, 2014 - 01:35am

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

Illuminating Durham Cathedral

In February 2013, a new lighting scheme for Durham Castle and Cathedral, designed by Stainton Lighting Design Services of Thornaby (,  was switched on. This sophisticated deployment of illumination eloquently displays  how light can contribute to developing a sense of place and reveal the often unnoticed qualities of a building. Replacing the previous floodlighting scheme developed in the 1970s, flexible control systems enable light intensity to be moderated and though 240 LED lights have replaced only 53 lumieres,  they  have significantly reduced energy consumption.durham cathedral 1

Since these new lights are positioned closer to the buildings, highlights and shadows are more prominent. The two buildings are distinguished by different colour temperatures, the cathedral being illuminated with colder lighting than the castle. The iconic, massive, medieval cathedral dominates the city’s skyline. The low level lighting across the green situated in front of the cathedral is minimal, allowing the cathedral to stand out against a dark foreground.

Durham cathedral 2The separately spaced lumières reveal the distinctive architectural features of the building: the window tracery, the massive towers and the Norman towers, and the cathedral’s form is accentuated by the warmer light projected onto the buttresses to produces a sense of depth. These striking architectural elements cannot be ascertained as acutely during daylight. But at night, the focus of illumination acts to make them far more evident to the eye. The illumination also vibrantly highlights the texture of the stonework, with areas of rough and smooth surface. Though colour is muted, the shape, details and texture of the building is able to be fully appreciated.

Durham cathedral 3

January 20th, 2014 - 15:59pm