skip to content | Accessibility Information

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

Picturing the dynamics of urban lightscapes

Posted by Josiane Meier

Urban lighting generally seems to be a rather static affair: When night falls, the lights are switched on – and when dawn rises, they go off. However, given that there is not only one switch for a city’s lights, but rather a whole array of larger and smaller switches and dials, it’s worth asking whether this simple and synchronised “on-off-on-off” is really what’s happening. Are there differences in rhythm and schedule between public and private lighting, between street lights, architectural illuminations and neon signs, between the lights in different parts of a city? And, if so: What determines their dynamics?

In order to gain insights into this largely uncharted territory, we are assembling and analysing a growing collection of time lapse videos. Each video portrays one night in one of Berlin’s urban centres – places that are hotspots of day- and night-time activity and that are typically expected & accepted to be especially bright. Composed of over 1.000 individual images each, and furnished with time stamps, the videos make it possible to observe what happens with individual light sources as the night progresses. The camera’s positioning and settings are kept identical, thereby allowing for the comparison of levels of brightness within and between locations.time lapse Breitscheidplatz

time lapse Alexanderplatz

Three of the locations have been portrayed in early summer nights – Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz and Hackescher Markt – to allow for comparability, while one – Breitscheidplatz – is shown in the winter holiday season, providing a glimpse at the special case of festive lighting.

One thing quickly becomes very clear when viewing the videos: Urban lightscapes are not static at all – they change significantly throughout the night. It is interesting to note that there are places with a considerably more or less pronounced dynamic. The lights at Hackescher Markt, in particular, don’t change much at all in comparison to those of Alexanderplatz or Potsdamer Platz. Remarkably, the level of brightness at Hackescher Markt also appears to be significantly lower than at the other two locations – both in our videos and in a bird’s eye view of Berlin at night – despite various indicators pointing toward it being the place in this comparison that sees the most activity during the night.

time lapse Hackescher-Mkt  time lapse Potsdamer-Platz

Differences between various types of light sources are also becoming apparent. For example, public street lights and the illumination of public transport stations stay on throughout the night in all cases. Architectural illumination and lit advertisements, on the other hand, often go out in the small hours – some remain off, while others relight in the early morning. There are, however, significant exceptions: The dome of the IMAX cinema at Potsdamer Platz or the steeple of the Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz remain brightly lit all night long. The assortment of seasonal lights visible in the Breitscheidplatz time lapse follows a variety of rhythms: While the Christmas market’s lights go off at around 10:15 pm, the adornments along the street only go out at 12:15 am, and the construction crane’s decoration remains lit all night.

Overall, it has become very evident that the how, when and why of our illuminated nights is not at all clear-cut: Far from being static or homogenous, they are an amalgamation of many different actors’ actions and logics, and their dynamics are worth investigating as much as the motives behind them.

December 18th, 2014 - 13:51pm

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.

Lichtgrenze-RegViertel_2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/geoiss/de/home.html

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.

Lichtgrenze-Charite-Ballonflug

 

November 12th, 2014 - 13:06pm

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

Radiant Lines in Melbourne

British architect Asif Khan (www.asif-khan.com) has devised a spellbinding sculpture that sits at the heart of the Melbourne’s Federation Square as part of the city’s Light in Winter Programme. The cylindrical piece, with a height of 5 meteres and a 15 metre diameter, is composed out of 40 rings of aluminium. As darkness descends, hundreds of white LED lights pulse along the rings in both directions, and the sculpture is activated by invisible triggers that produce vertical bands of light whenever anybody steps across its threshold.radiant lines 1

The more people move in and out of its interior, the brighter and more dynamic the sculpture becomes, the vertical segments of light then dispersing by orbiting the structure. This vibrancy draws in yet more participants as well as onlookers who watch the pleasingly multiple patterns, honouring and recording everybody’s presence. Yet the work is best experienced without distraction when the traffic dies down, the other activities in the square diminish, the lights dim and a few visitors move between its interior and exterior. Khan reckons that the work mimics the natural phenomenon of the light emitted by bioluminescent organisms, but whatever the symbolism behind it, the shapely work charges this architecturally diverse plaza with an energy and other-worldliness that testifies to the potency of light to transform the habitual nocturnal space of the city. Photos by Shanti Sumartojoradiant lines 4

June 20th, 2014 - 06:31am

Categories

Tags

Contributors

Twitter