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Light Research @ MMU

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.

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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.

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January 20th, 2014 - 16:10pm

Light theme at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham

I have recently commenced a 3 month fellowship at Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study. Each year, the institute selects a particular theme, and this year, the theme is LIGHT. 9 scholars each term, from a wide disciplinary background, are invited to explore, discuss and think about light in the beautiful environment of the 18th century Cosin’s Hall (for a list of this year’s fellows see There are a wide variety of events being held to investigate the numerous ways in which light can be investigated: here’s the full list:

January 20th, 2014 - 15:40pm

Crowd Darkening: Designing darkness in a Berlin park

Light designer Sabine De Schutter is the winner of the 2013 CLU Foundation Contest for innovative lighting concepts for exterior public space. Sabine and colleagues were rewarded for devising the concept of Crowd Darkening, using an adaptive system of illumination that uses motion tracking to respond to movement and the numbers of people in a public park in Berlin. When few people were in the park, lighting levels rose to enhance feelings of security, whereas levels fell when the numbers of park users increased. Besides minimising the effects of light pollution, Sabine and the the team contend that a sense of safety is created by the presence of several other people in such a setting. Moreover, a sense of well-being and the quality of the atmosphere can be improved by producing a pleasing, comfortable setting  in which a group of friends can socialise. This is a fabulous example of the ways in which designers are increasingly questioning the need to flood public space with light, and reconsidering the qualities offered by darkness and shadow. I envisage that we are at the threshold of a bigger process through which the relationship between light and dark will be completely reconsidered


November 21st, 2013 - 10:39am

The Little Shed of Various Lamps

Nikolai Duffy, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, has published various essays and reviews on experimental writing, contemporary poetry, small press publishing, and sculpture, and is the author of Relative Strangeness: Reading Rosmarie Waldrop (Shearsman, 2013). Here is his account of his recent book of poetry:Lamp 22LightFor the past two years, I have been engaged in researching different notions of light and illumination, from the history of the lamp from the Mesolithic period to the present, to notions of dark matter and dark energy in cosmology. To date, the results of this research have formed the basis for a book-length creative project called The Little Shed of Various Lamps (Very Small Kitchen, May 2013). Fusing poetry with prose, essay, and image the book  tells the story of a husband grieving for his deceased wife, killed in the aftermath of an earthquake. As a means of trying to come to terms with his grief, the narrator begins to collect lamps in the little shed at the bottom of his garden. The published narrative tells the history of lamps, and also engages with notions of light, optics, illumination, dark energy, earthquakes, climate change, and various other subjects. The text is primarily about the relation between light and feeling.


May 13th, 2013 - 11:52am

Dark and Spooky

Although darkness can bring forth all assorts of positive effects and sensations, there is no getting away from the fact that it is often associated with the occult, the spooky and the scary. Here is Julian Holloway* discussing an organised ghost hunt in Salford’s Ordsall Hall at the point that the lights are turned off:

‘Only recently travelled and manoeuvred space shifts and changes, and we are filled by a sense of unease as the layout and dimensions of rooms, doorways, objects, and artefacts lose their recently gained familiarity. Open doors leading to rooms just passed through become spaces of fascination, spaces without inhabitation, spaces filled with the potential for mysterious shapes, outlines, and noises. Space takes on a different luminosity. Rooms and staircases are strobed by handheld torches. The darkness alters sensory registers. Sight becomes strained as we look round rooms at objects and at other ghost hunters. Listening becomes more highly attuned to knocks, taps, breathing, and other noises’.

*Holloway J (2010) Legend-tripping in Spooky Spaces: Ghost Tourism and Infrastructures of Enchantment, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(4),618-637.

March 7th, 2013 - 16:27pm