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Light Research @ MMU

Illuminating York 2014: three art works

The annual Illuminating York light festival took place from 29th October to 1st November 2014. As well as featuring a couple of projections on some of the many magnificent, historic buildings in the city, a number of light artworks were installed across its medieval centre, transforming the ways in which this heavily visited, iconic tourist city was experienced at night. Ritchard Allaway and Luc Jones created a light sculpture that evocatively displayed the textures of concrete, situated in a green, meditative setting adjacent to the magnificent cathedral.

york 1Close by, Joanne Geldard installed an illuminated greenhouse etched with scenes from the unheralded edgelands and waste sites that surround the contemporary city, the greenhouse itself representing a fixture that signifies a blurring of the rural-urban divide.

york 2

And in King’s Square, Twist Design situated The Wheels of Industry, a car fitted with stained glass windows that could be illuminated by pedalling on an adjacent stationary bicycle. Though heralding the potential for more sustainable forms of power generation, the work simultaneously honoured the disappearing heavy industries and industrial cultures that pervaded the northern cities of England.

york 3


November 4th, 2014 - 12:46pm

Op art updated with light: Galaxia II

For me, the most mesmerising installations at VIVID was Galaxia III (for a video of the work, see an ever-changing rectangle full of shifting geometric patterns of light that produced a riot of optical effects in the viewer.  Created by Alan Rose (, Galaxia II resonated with the work of the practitioners of op art of the 1960s and 70s. These artists were less concerned with producing representations of landscapes, still lives or figures than with focusing upon ideas and the relationship of a piece to the viewer. Such works were less concerned with the emotions of the artist and more about the mental state induced in the viewer. Galaxia 2, 1

Moreover, in the words of Simon Rycroft (2005, ‘The nature of op art: Bridget Riley and the art of non-representation’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space), this work was ‘a generator of perceptual responses, possessing a dynamic quality which provoked illusory images and sensations in the spectator’, thereby focusing attention on the perceptual capacities of human vision. These sensations are amplified by Alan’s use of light to further dramatically explore optical effects. He emphasises that one purpose of his work ‘is to induce a mental state – where the viewer goes from there is up to the individual imagination’. As with the op artists who influence his work, Alan contends that with Galaxia II, ‘there has to be some confusion… the opposing colours change so slowly that the viewer can’t quite remember what it looked like 10 seconds ago’. Galaxia2,2

He continues, ’the slowly changing colours and varying block shapes produce kinetic effects which are designed to induce transformative mindstates. The works give the initial illusion of random forms, but with the passing of time the completely ordered geometry is perceived. In this way they are situated between order and chaos, and hopefully compel the viewer to contemplate them for an extended period, maybe conjuring up personal narratives’. In confronting this work, we question whether what we are seeing is accurate or whether our eyes are playing tricks on us. This makes us wonder further about how we see with light. Do others perceive this work as we do? (thanks to Alan Rose).Galaxia 2, 3

June 10th, 2014 - 03:18am

The potential of shadow: Alexander Calder’s sculptures

At a marvellous exhibition in New York’s Venus Over Manhattan Gallery, the mobiles and stabiles of esteemed modernist sculptor, Alexander Calder, have been transformed by the use of spotlights. The mobiles in particular are re-enchanted, lit to produce powerful, dancing shadows that complement the sculpture. The exhibition gives a new sense to these works, offering a fuller, more three dimensional appreciation of their shapely, dynamic qualities. A YouTube video gives a good sense of their seductiveness:

Calder in shadow

January 28th, 2014 - 15:42pm

Gavin Turk’s Neon Art at the Bowes Museum

gavin  Turk LobsterOn the night of the 24th January, with other fellows of the Institute for Advanced Study, I visited the Bowes Museum, the fantastic 19th century building rendered in the likeness of a French château, in the North Yorkshire town of Barnard Castle, to enjoy the opening of a fabulous exhibition devised by Gavin Turk. Turk NailGavin Turk Candle

Bringing together all of his neon works made between 1995 and 2014, these pieces resonate with iconic works by old and modern masters, with popular culture and with themes explored in Turk’s earlier work. Installations include an animated lit match, a large egg, a banana, the radiating vision from a single eye, the Greek letter Phi, a star, an iron cross, a lobster, a candle and three doors in the middle of each wall, matching the one viewers enter. These are accompanied by a work on the outside of the building, Seven Billion Two Hundred and One Million Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four Thousand and Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight (also the title of the show), a number intended to capture the median human population of the earth at the time of the exhibition’s opening. This is matched by another work inside that assesses the amount by which this number has increased during the time it takes to make your way into the interior gallery from the outside – specifically, to 7.201,966,413. The various pieces conjure up various associations of this most evocative of lighting technologies: neon’s early allure as futuristic design, its use in propaganda, the seedy but romantic demi-monde conjured in film noir, the gaudy enticements of Las Vegas, the proliferating mid-20th century urban nightscape of advertising promotion, and the work of other artists. (see Christoph Ribbat’s Flickering Light, for a detailed account of these changing  cultural uses and meanings of neon.) Yet these works also stand apart from these resonances, the glow of neon picking out their economical, singular lines, enchanting their symbolic and affective charge.Gavin Turk Door

The show will subsequently visit the New Art Centre at  East Winterslow, Salisbury and most appropriately, the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool.

Thanks to Julie Westerman and Ulisses Barres de Almeida for photos.

January 25th, 2014 - 16:57pm

Das Kugelhaus

Das Kugelhaus (1928)

Das Kugelhaus (1928)

Das Kugelhaus was designed by Peter Birch and constructed in Dresden in 1928, but was sadly demolished just 10 years. This night-time view accentuates the futurist ideals it represented. Check out this website for a short video showing the construction of Das Kugelhaus.


May 15th, 2013 - 07:47am