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Light Research @ MMU

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

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