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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

Celebrating the Lights of Christmas 2014

This site has always warmed to the efforts of professional and amateur light designers that put on a  Yuletide show. Christmas is the time of year when in accordance with ancient rhythms, the gloomy months are transformed by the deployment of bright lights to exterior and interior spaces. In many parts of the world, the holiday season continues to herald an ever-growing display of festive illuminations that include a variety of arrangements: indoor lights with which we garland Christmas trees and interior spaces, the festoons of strings of animated bulbs and illuminated figures that adorn house exteriors, and the large spectacles that festoon the streets and squares of city centre districts in endeavouring to attract shoppers and tourists to part with their money. This year has seen a particularly striking effusion of Christmas lighting, as exemplified by four extraordinary examples from different parts of the world. Let’s celebrate them!

First, and exemplifying how Christmas is a time of magnificent excess, is the amazing choreographed sequences that are synchronised with selective pieces of festive music. Devised by Jeff Maxey at Yucaipa, California, the display incorporates 16 houses in creating an incredible son et lumière show

Second, the lights of Tokyo offer a different aesthetic to the multi-coloured effects of other cities but the quantity utilised produced whole landscapes that are saturated with festive spirit.

tokyo christmas lights










Third, the growing emergence of digital mapping at Christmas is exemplified at Trieste, where a 12 minute, festive themed projection sequence plays across the façade of the Municipal Centre in Piazza Unità:

Finally, in Derby at a suburban house at which a larger than life Santa inside greets onlookers from outside. Slightly spooky but fun

santa in Derby


December 16th, 2014 - 16:38pm

Sex work, liminality and light

Posted by Mary Laing, Northumbria University

I really enjoyed reading Emily Bowe’s blog entry: Massage parlours: an alternative Blackpool illuminations ( The post appealed to me on a number of levels; initially because I grew up not too far from Blackpool, and regularly as a child and later as an adult, made the trip to walk along the prom to see the illuminations and to eat hot salty chips with a wooden fork, through gloved fingers.

chips at the illuminations










Photo: Chips at the ‘luminations  (Image with permission of Ed Gibney, 2012)

But also, it interested me because like Emily, I have recently started to think about spaces of sex work in terms of their illumination (or lack of). I have visited the window districts of Antwerp and Amsterdam, the massage parlours of Manchester as well as the heady night-time sex spaces of Bangkok, and my memories of these spaces centre on the colourful neon signs lighting up the night; they contrast starkly with the ‘gloomier’ and less illuminated spaces of street sex work I have visited in Manchester, Liverpool and Vancouver. Indeed, spaces of sexual commerce are traditionally depicted to ‘come alive’ at night-time, and the night has long been (re)presented as an appropriate play-scape for those seeking transgressive and sexual pleasures in the city

soi cowboy










I intend to collaborate with artist Gloria Ronchi (, whose practice uses light as a medium to create immersive art spaces, Alessandra Mondin (University of Sunderland) and visual anthropologist Michael Atkins on a project exploring themes of sex work, liminality and light.  Throughout the residency we will consult with sex workers and other experts and work towards the creation of a public art space to explore these themes. We will ask questions like: how does light affect access to different spaces (physical, digital and psychological; private and public) and why? How does the (lack of) illumination of public spaces influence the affective experiences of those spaces? Levels of light and darkness provoke ‘affective and emotional resonances, cajoling bodies into movement, activating passions, instigating sensual pleasures and discomfort’ (Edensor, 2013: 456), so how does this subtle balance affect the ambiguity of red light landscapes? And, how are concepts of sexuality reinforced, challenged, or subverted through the dark?  Through the work we will seek to develop a more nuanced, corporeal, sensate and visceral reading of sex work and commercially sexed spaces. We hope it will develop unique and original insights, whilst challenging public perceptions of sex work through art.

November 3rd, 2014 - 11:38am

Fireworks, fountains, lasers and mist screens

In the 17th and 18th centuries, European monarchs adopted new technologies that transformed the overwhelming darkness of night of that era. They bedazzled subjects with lavish, baroque displays of fireworks and theatrical illuminations, displaying majesty and challenging religious power. Since then, the firework display has never lost its allure, and we continue to celebrate New Year’s Eve, independence days and bonfire night at increasingly organised, highly managed displays. Aquatique - lasers, fireworks, fountains

The practices of my youth, purchasing fireworks from local shops and letting them off in the back garden from the proceeds gathered from wheeling a stuffed dummy around the streets in search of a ‘penny for the guy’, and the pleasures of throwing jumping jacks and bangers around with gay abandon have vanished under the sway of health and safety regimes. Replacing these humble but nevertheless quite intimate, magical re-enchantments of everyday, homely space are ever more spectacular displays.Aquatique - red fountains

At Sydney’s VIVID, this advancement was underlined by the extraordinary display witnessed by throngs of spectators on all sides of Cockle Bay, by Vivid Aquatique Water Theatre which combines a visual feast of numerous illuminated dancing water fountains, four giant water screens composed of mist upon which fantasy figures were projected, tumultuous fireworks and blazing lasers. Aquatique - monsters and lasers

This multi-dimensional show certainly drew the requisite quantity of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowds and was certainly an enthralling though somewhat depthless display, perhaps in keeping with the massive programme of redevelopment that is turning the Darling Harbour area into a massive site of spectacle and consumption, replete with sumptuous bars and restaurants, retail spaces, aquaria, waxworks, cruises, theatres, nightclubs, museums, gardens and a casino, itself contributing to VIVID’s nightscape.Aquatique -trumpets, fountains and foreworks

June 8th, 2014 - 06:37am

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