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Light Research @ MMU

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

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

The allure of cheesy lights

drummingOn a cold autumn evening in late November, the artist collective, The Brick Box,
initiated a night of festive illumination to ‘entertain and illuminate, inspire
and celebrate…Canning Town like you have never seen before’. The project was
funded by The Arts Council England, and supported by Newham Council ( The goal was to create a positive atmosphere in “an area which suffers from negative perceptions and which truly benefits from the transformative power of the arts’. In addressing the negative perceptions of particular spaces, Light Night Canning Town was staged through the inclusion of citizens into a temporary remaking of the city. The first photo shows a circle of drums, filled with water and lit from beneath, that creates changing lighting patterns once people started drumming and transformed the aesthetic appearance, perception and use of a usually deserted space, the underpass of the A13.

The second photograph facilitated the real-time projections of drawings made on a set of i-pads onto a pillar of this underpass, creating effervescent, luminous graffiti. People of all ages and ethnicities enjoyed playing with these installations.

light graffitiHowever, a much bigger draw was a somewhat unusual ‘installation’, a disco, playing  90’s dance music and emitting laser and party lights, as seen on photo 3. Instead of demanding the effort of getting in the mood for drumming or drawing, the disco encouraged playing, dancing, interacting and smiling. The different installations created different luminous spectacles, engineered through different affective tools. The disco’s immediate appeal to visual and auditory sensory registers seemed to inspire practices and interactions that would not necessarily usually be allowed under the A13. The disco differed from the other installations in not demanding some abstract engagement with space. Rather, the disco appealed to embodied movement, releasing potential tension and suppressed smiles. It simply presented itself as a cheesy disco.

cheesy disco

What might we learn from this? The installations at Light Night Canning Town demonstrate how luminous spectacles are employed to manufacture certain forms of experiences and practices that are not manipulative and distorted. As Steven Duncombe (2007) argues in his book Dream: Re-imagining Politics in an Age of Fantasy, such popular cultural spectacles appeal to desires, channelling these not into the creation of consent but into the creation of dissent, mobilising people to express their own desires, not the desires of a corporation or state authority. The luminous spectacle does not merely create an aesthetic veneer that covers up the social realities of a local area but can be used to mobilise local residents by celebrating their popular or vernacular practices, and summoning new aesthetic expressions. The disco, the drumming and the luminous graffiti seduced people in different ways, but the disco was by far the most popular, because rather than manipulating residents to experience a fake world, it took residents local everyday, vernacular practices as its starting point. Posted by Casper Laing Ebbensgaard.

January 20th, 2014 - 15:31pm

Light installation at Sunderland Railway Station: Ghosts on the Hidden Platform


I have recently visited Sunderland and saw the magnificent light wall, installed in 2010. The wall, over 140 metres, is on the opposite side of the platform from which trains takes passengers to nearby Newcastle. As passengers wait for their train, they witness the continuous movement of ghostly forms – mothers with prams, couples, backpackers – walking up and down a virtual platform opposite. Behind the light wall and long hidden from view is a disused platform and these ghosly forms both capture the passengers of yesteryear and mirror those of the ropesent day on the platform opposite. A superb and evocative piece of public art.

Sunderland Rail Station

December 11th, 2013 - 10:51am

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