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Light Research @ MMU

Moonraking 2015

Moonraking crane and moonLast Saturday (21st February)  marked the 30th anniversary of Slaithwaite’s Moonraking Festival, a charming event written about on this blog two years ago. The Moon was, as usual, hauled out of the canal on crane to take its position at the head of the procession around the village. This year, there seemed more lanterns than ever before, created to evoke the annual theme of landmarks. The parade produced the most surreal sight of a bobbing sea of famous destinations, including the Statue of Liberty,Taj Mahal, Angel of the North  and Sydney Opera House. Moonraking Angel

The fabulous lanterns were augmented by a beautiful winter house and an array of lanterns that formed a likeness of version of Stonehenge, called Moonhenge. Once more, the festival involved large sections of the community and transformed the nocturnal environment.

     Photos by Kim Kotharimoonraking houseMoonhenge

February 24th, 2015 - 17:31pm

The power of daylight: Spencer Finch and David Claerbout

Besides those artists who use artificial illumination in their art, it is also interesting to identify those drawn towards the daylight, like James Turrell.  Two artists whose shows I have recently seen are Spencer Finch and David Claerbout, both inspired by sunlight and its qualities. Spencer Finch recently exhibited at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, a seaside location in Kent, England, which inspired the great JMW Turner to paint its ever-changing skies. Indeed, the huge window on the seaward side of the gallery allows visitors to focus on these dynamic transitions themselves. Finch is fascinated by the interplay between light, colour and perception, and his work celebrates the ways in which colour continuously changes according to the light that falls on it.  Amongst the works in Margate was Passing Cloud (After Constable) (2014), a sculpture, made out of translucent fabric suspended from the ceiling that alters in transparency and opacity according to the light that fills the space from outside.

spencer finch1

In Back to Kansas (2013), Finch has replicated colours from scenes in The Wizard of Oz in a grid of painted squares that change their hue in response to the varying daylight, and ultimately to the whites, greys and blacks of twilight, revealing the dynamism of colours and our changing perceptions of them under different luminosities. Thank You Fog (2009) consists of 60 photographs arranged in a line at head height that frame exactly the same forest scene. Black to start with, the trees emerge periodically through gloom and fog and under changing light conditions, so we get a sense of how this scene changes from moment to moment

David Claerbout1In a different vein is David Claerbout’s The Quiet Shore (2011), recently shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of this year’s Sydney Biennale The work is a 36-minute black-and-white film shot on the coast of Brittany, France, consisting of a sequence of still photographs. It includes numerous, luminous images of scenes of the smooth, wet, mirror-like surface of the beach. Like Finch, Claerbout celebrates the very distinctive forms of light that bestow distinctive qualities on places. But unlike the endless transformation conjured by Finch, he focuses on a particular time, on the stillness of the silvery water that produced such luminous effects towards the day’s end. The overwhelming beauty of this gleaming luminosity was intensified by the highly polished floor of the gallery room in which it was installed, doubling its power.

David Claerbout3

November 26th, 2014 - 13:34pm

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

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

Subluminal at John Rylands Library, Manchester

On Deansgate, a main artery of Manchester, lies John Rylands Library, an extraordinary, charismatic Victorian neo-Gothic building that testifies to the power and confidence of the city’s entrepreneurs during its industrial zenith. On the nights of 30th and 31st of January and 1st February, the library was the site for Subluminal, a event devised by a group of design professionals from North West England. Their aim: to transform the usual sensory apprehension of the building. blue ceiling

Visitors were invited to enter the usually unused main door, and make their way through the library’s interior, where a plethora of light effects highlighted sensational architectural features, design details, sculptures, artefacts, stairways, niches, chambers and passageways.  Initially, we lingered in the cavernous reading room, where coloured and white lights highlighted key features, punctuating the general gloom. Then, thrillingly, we descended a very narrow spiral staircase into the bowels of the building. Walking through a dark corridor lined with leather bound books, usually inaccessible to the public,  a strobe light  briefly illuminated the surroundings.

door with bars

Further along, chambers bordered by doors with iron bars were illuminated by a soulful red light, compounding the thick atmosphere. The tour was accompanied by evocative sounds, including a welcoming introduction from the statue of industrialist John Rylands himself, ambient drones and whispers, and throbbing bass notes that spread through the subterranean passageways. At points, the gloom inside contrasted with the light from outside that shone through the ornamental windows. In wholly defamiliarising and enchanting the library through the deployment of sounds, illumination and especially darkness, Subluminal made a powerful statement about the potency of light and sonic design to enrich the sensory experience of place. For more details and selection of images, see

figures sculpture trio



February 4th, 2014 - 15:39pm