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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

Multiple you, multiple me: Seeing yourself across the night environment

Another of the key interactive aspects of Sydney’s VIVID festival is the possibility to feature yourself in the drama of the nightscape of the city. Three installations offer the chance for you to see representations of yourself in unfamiliar settings. These techniques project your face and body  at various scales, in particular places and in peculiar forms. Some of these versions take place on screens but some  transcend the two dimensions of photograph and film so that your image appears in three-dimensional space. The first piece, Positive Feedback, takes place in a small room off the street. You face a screen upon which your silhouette appears. Moving around – dancing, waving arms, jumping – reveals images of your body captured by a camera operating a minimal time delay so that flowing patterns feature multiple shadows. This is a pleasingly responsive and somewhat fantastical representation of your moving body that endows it with an unusual grace, engendering an understanding of the traces that your body leaves behind as a vital element within space. Edensor, Positive Feedback

The second work, Graffiti Me, photographs the face of the participant and then projects this image in stencil like form onto a dark, brick wall for minute or so. You resemble a short-lived Andy Warhol portrait. Yet the images lingers a little longer, for each night, all the images taken are turned into a time-lapse film accessible via a website ( This brief virtual presence in public space perhaps heralds future democratic possibilities  where all may have access to  the generation of images across space, updating the graffiti tagger’s desire to mark their existence on the urban fabric. Graffiti Edensor

The final, most dramatic installation is Emergence, which takes the form of a huge head in the  shape of a crystal, the average head rendered gemoetricaly, augmented with patterns of illuminated colour, that emerges out of the pavement of busy city centre thoroughfare, Martin Place. And it is your head, as it is filmed in real time and transferred onto the large structure. It is a an uncanny sensation to see your own likeness staring back at you, like some mythical beast rising up out of the earth to move amongst mortals. You can never have envisaged seeing yourself like this! Emergence might also refer to some of the future possibilities that will arise for designing the built environment using techniques of digital fabrication, three-dimensional scanning and generative design . Edensor's Emergence

Indeed, more generally, the interactive attractions of VIVID signify the future possibilities of a smart, interactive city. They suggest that we are at the threshold of enormous possibilities: of interacting with responsive technologies on a daily basis, by receiving information of all sorts across space, by participating in the design of the city by scanning images of ourselves, ideas, representations and objects that can be projected onto the city’s fabric. We may individually be able to influence the feel and mood of a place through lighting. All this has the potential to expand the mutability and flexibility of the city, allowing the continuous marking of change onto its surfaces and spreading meanings across space. A warning though: it is not difficult to imagine that such technologies may also be deployed to intrude upon our urban existence, disrupting our progress with commercial messages, and saturating the city with targeted digital advertisements, as in the film, Minority Report. Let us hope that progressive, creative outomes emerge from these enticing potentialities.

June 3rd, 2014 - 03:34am

Trees at VIVID: @DrHG on #VividSydney: trees and bushland

 The Qantas air steward said, ‘You must go to Vivid Sydney – the city is all lit up’. So on the first evening I took the train to Circular Quay and the Harbour. Wow. The Opera House, an off-white colour in the daytime, was transformed by reds, greens, blacks, animal prints… I am in Australia researching enthusiasm for trees and I’ve just finished reading a paper by Jodi Frawley (‘Campaigning for street trees, Sydney Botanic Gardens, 1890s–1920s’, Environment and History, 15(3): 303–22) about campaigning for street trees in Sydney Botanic Gardens in the 1890s–1920s. There is a fascinating history of trees in Sydney as a means of claiming space and encouraging settlement. For Frawley, trees were also important “as urban technologies, which added shade and beauty to [the] streets” (2009: 318). Light and shade in the form of trees continue to be central to Sydney’s heritage, and two installations at Vivid Sydney emphasise this.cadman

First, just opposite the Opera House, is Cadman’s Cottage, built in 1816 and one of the few buildings that remain from the first 30 years of the colony. The display is called Mystery of Creation (Fragments of the Seasons) by Heinz Kasper/Robert Faldner, and is described as a ‘poem of light and sound … projecting nature’s changes onto a concrete facade: Flowers blossom, only to wilt; trees wither, only to grow anew. The wind whispers in the tree; its leaves embody alchemy in the transformation of living colour, from green into yellow and red; leaves dance and drop off in a storm; and once again you see a bare tree’.

urban tree project

The second stop was in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD. A clump of trees growing out of the street scene. This was impressive – watching the trees and animals climb higher and higher. – the Urban Tree Project’, produced by Nicholas Tory, Lucy Keeler, Martin Crouch, Julian Reinhold and Iain Greenhaigh’ covers the MLC building, offering a living tree within the dense urban jungle. The projection hints at Sydney’s bushland heritage.

Text and photographs by Hilary Geoghegan:

June 2nd, 2014 - 06:04am

Manipulating the illumination of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Quarter

One of the delights of Sydney’s Vivid light festival is the plenitude of interactive attractions. Two of the most extraordinary are Colour the Bridge and Luminous Nights. Colour the Bridge is facilitated by the touch screen situated on the North side of the harbour which allows you to design the light displayed on the mighty steel arch of the Harbour Bridge. touch screen - designing the harbour bridge lights

Visitors are able to choose colours from a broad spectrum to transform the appearance of four elements that consitute the essential horizontal and vertical lines of the bridge’s design. In addition, certain  lines can be made to pulse with changing colours, so that each design is the unique creation of the operator of the screen.

 designing the lights on the Harbour Bridge

Luminous Nights has been installed in Darling Quarter since 2012 and runs outside the festival. Billed as the world’s biggest interactive permanent light display, the canvas upon which the public can paint with light extends for the 150 metres and four levels of the two sections of the Commonwealth Bank Head Quarters. Deploying advanced LED systems, light is manipulated via two digital touch screens, allowing for a vast array of colours and patterns to instantaneously transform the feel and appearance of the building.Luminous2Luminous1Luminous3

 It is an amazing experience to realise that you are responsible for the appearance of such enormous structures at the touch of a few buttons and the two displays conjures up future possibilities of allowing citizens to shape the mood and appearance of cities

May 30th, 2014 - 02:59am