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Light Research @ MMU

FROM LIGHT TO DARK: DAYLIGHT ILLUMINATION AND GLOOM

FINALLY…. My book has now been published by Minnesota Press!! The contents provide in-depth analysis of many of the themes discussed on this blog within three distinct sections: daylight, illumination and darkness. More specifically, here is the chapter outline:

Part I. Light
1. Seeing with Landscape, Seeing with Light
2. Under the Dynamic Sky: Living and Creating with Light
Part II. Illumination
3. Electric Desire: Lighting the Vernacular and Illuminating Nostalgia
4. Caught in the Light: Power, Inequality, and Illumination
5. Festivals of Illumination: Painting and Playing with Light
6. Staging Atmosphere: Public Extravaganzas and Homely Designs
Part III. Dark
7. Nocturnes: Changing Meanings of Darkness
8. The Re-enchantment of Darkness: The Pleasures of Noir
Conclusion: The Novelty of Light and the Value of Darkness

The book can be accessed at http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk/from-light-to-dark

It’s reasonably priced!!

March 27th, 2017 - 03:40am

Light Touches: an innovative history of 19th century illumination

Alice Barnaby’s recently published book, Light Touches: Cultural Practices of Illumination, (https://www.routledge.com/Light-Touches-Cultural-Practices-of-Illumination-1800-1900/Barnaby/p/book/9780415663373) offers a fascinating, theoretically sophisticated and critical exploration of the development of 19th century light. By drawing on a remarkable range of examples, Alice demonstrates how the everyday world was dramatically transformed by the use of illumination and daylight, with the emergence of new materials, innovative designs and novel aesthetics. Yet rather than considering this as a top down process through which capitalists, scientists and bureaucrats dispensed illumination, people themselves were intimately involved in the evolution of new ways of presenting public space, their homes and their own bodies. In middle class homes, ladies of leisure experimented with new forms of painting that relied on light to produce transparent images. They also investigated the properties with muslin as a material with which to drape across windows, furniture and their own bodies, playing with its diaphanous qualities. Gin palaces and sites of amusement lured in visitors to enjoy the multiple reflections produced by new technologies that deployed mirrors, creating spaces of fascination, sociability and display, with their refracting shimmers and multiple reflections. People participated in illuminated patriotic, royalist and military celebrations, yet such occasions could be unruly, offering opportunities for violence and political protest before their later evolution into more peaceful events. And in developing a range of contesting aesthetics, artists and gallery owners initiated the use of daylighting to enchant the works they displayed. In drawing on a diverse array of theories and examples, Light Touches reveals that the radical transformation in sensory experience heralded by new techniques of illumination was not merely part of governmental systems of control and rationalisation nor generated by passively consumed spectacles. Instead, in working with the possibilities offered by these developments in illumination, ordinary people fully participated in the dramatic changes in how the world was perceived, produced and judged through experimentation, imaginative play and adaptation.

January 23rd, 2017 - 00:53am

Voice Array: Lozano-Hemmer in Blackpool

Blackpool’s Grundy Gallery (http://www.grundyartgallery.com/) recently inititated an annual exhibition of light-related art that will synchronize with the two months of the year when the resort displays its traditional lluminations. The exhibition, Sensory Systems, featured fantastic work by  renowned light artists Angela Bulloch, Anthony McCall, Conrad Shawcross and Ann Veronica Jansenns. The gallery is small but the show generated  much excitement, especially the extraordinary Voice Array (2011) shown by  a fifth artist, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. In a bare, rectangular room, visitors were invited to shout, scream, relate a sentence or make any vocal noise into a microphone placed adjacent to the entrance to the room. This sparked a subsequent repetitive recording of this utterance, which corresponded with  the flashing of a light close by at about shoulder height.

hemmerThereafter, this brilliant white light moved along a horizontal band  that encompassed the whole of the room, and as it did so, the recording merged with a growing array of previous pronouncements to progressively create an accumulating medley of sound, the extending light pulsing in response. At the end of the journey, the travelling illumination has accompanied the cumulative sound of the 288 vocal interjections that constitute the piece. Yet the addition of one more contribution means that the last recorded utterance must disappear forever. Accordingly, upon completing its voyage around the room, the light briefly ceases, and this sound is heard for the last time in isolation. So it is that one can participate as part of a shifting community of gallery visitors, with separate contributions each translated into flashes of light and compressed together in time and space. Astonishing.

December 5th, 2015 - 19:49pm

Queueing for the dark

Posted by Katharina Gabriel

Institut für Public Health und Pflegeforschung, Universität Bremen, katharina.gabriel@uni-bremen.de

In this day and age there are hardly any places in our neighbourhood unaffected by artificial light at night. Whenever in need we turn light on as a matter of course. Darkness has become rare in our everyday life but as we don’t miss it we don’t realize.

Within the interdisciplinary research project “Verlust der Nacht” (“Loss of the Night” – www.verlustdernacht.de), we investigated the reasons for brightening the night by artificial light, as well as its consequences for animals and humans. As a project coordinator, one of my tasks was to raise people’s awareness about light pollution.Logo_VdN_neg

For the project’s open day we developed a ‘Room of Darkness’ to solicit experiences of senses other than vision for visitors. We prepared boxes for touching and boxes for smelling. Those for touching provided material of different textures such as pebbles, balloons, the bark of a horse chestnut tree, screw nuts and flakes of polystyrene. Those for smelling provided scents of coffee, lemon, basil and nutmeg. We excluded anything wet, ugly or potentially allergenic. We eliminated all sources of light with the exception of one single faint light source for security – enough for scotopic vision. After two of us had adapted our eyes to the gloom, groups of 10 to 15 people: – families, friends, couples – entered. After finding a place within the room, the door was closed and they were welcomed with a short speech about humans being day active creatures whose strongest sense for orientation is vision. In the absence of light we feel unsure and thus tend to brighten the night. However, we have other senses that can be deployed for orientation, such as hearing. Instinctively, visitors followed the speaker’s voice with their head, and sharing this observation surprised them! We then invited them to test their other senses.

In the boxes for smelling, coffee was obvious; even little children identified the right box when asked to point it out. Nutmeg and basil, however, could conjure up associated foods. Instead of ‘basil’, visitors referred to ‘tomato and mozzarella’, and instead of ‘nutmeg’, they identified ‘mashed potatoes’ – both dishes commonly flavoured with these herbs and spices! In the boxes for touching, the first challenge was to overcome the timidity that restrained people from plunging their hands inside. Most of the contents were easy to distinguish. For the screw nuts we accepted ‘pearls’ as correct answer from children, though men often answered “M8” – the correct name of the item in terms of the size of diameter, testifying to the habitual, sensual knowledge of the handyman!L

After a while the children started to run around – their eyes able to adapt more quickly to the darkness than those of the adults. However, most visitors’ eyesight adapted towards the end of the session (after 10 to 12 minutes). Occasionally, we were asked, whether we had switched on some light. Only seniors lacked the ability to visually adapt. Conversation arose about eye physiology with its rods and cones, resulting in photopic and scotopic vision. Sometimes blindness and the natural options for orientation were discussed as well as options in the built environment.

We offered the ‘Room of Darkness’ over three years and it was always well attended. I learned that in peak times people had waited in line for two rounds – to experience of darkness again they had queued for more than half an hour…

 

November 12th, 2014 - 12:49pm

Light Discipline: Bodies and Power on the Battlefield

I recently presented a paper at the Sensing War conference in London entitled ‘The Meaning of Light: Seeing and Being on the Battlefield’.  Based around a poem I wrote about my time as a soldier during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the paper attempts to articulate the ambiguous power of light which I experienced on my particular part of the battlefield. The poem is called Light Discipline, which is a military term for one of the precautionary procedures deployed and enforced during the hours of darkness to conceal the location of personnel and equipment, and includes a strict ban on all recreational, functional and operational use of light – for example torchlight and cigarette smoking. These tactical blackouts not only made the already arduous but imperative task of staying safe, sane and keeping your body functioning infinitely more difficult, but also served to foreground and confuse other senses, sensibilities, emotions and relationships. Without light, the vast geographies of the desert suddenly shrink, fingertips mean more than maps, or as Derek Gregory might put it, the ‘cartographic’ becomes the ‘corpographic’.

On the other end of the scale, these nightly periods of enforced blindness were ‘relieved’ by the often spectacular artillery barrages to which the city of Basra was subjected during the initial ‘Shock and Awe’ stage of the invasion. As well as high explosives, the artillery unit to which I was attached also fired illumination rounds, known as ‘lumes’, a kind of giant firework on a parachute which hung in the air above the city and usually signalled an imminent attack. Having been caught one night in the beam of an illuminating round myself, I was always struck by their affective power, and how they seemed to make the ensuing high explosive ‘bomblet’ rounds almost unnecessary,  the objective of spatial control and psychological damage having already been achieved with aggressive illumination. Operation Maritime Raider 09

My poem covers the power of light as a potentially biopolitical and affective tactic, and as a disciplinary tool on a far more personal level:

 

 

 

 

In a blackout we adjust our sights

by touch and cup our smoke against

the desert : waiting for the light.

At long last the barrel scrapes

into place and the night is instantly

exposed. I cover my ears and watch.

In the distance a fitful city crouches,

seared eyes raised to the floating                                                                                                                     

arc above:  waiting for the strike.

              (Light Discipline : 2013)

 The research I have done so far has led to many other fascinating debates, from the authority of vision / knowledge, ‘flesh’ versus ‘eye’ witnessing, to battlefield technologies and the agency of the war poet. Any questions, comments, ideas or contributions would be very welcome. The abstract for the conference paper is available here. By Pip Thornton. (Pip is a PhD student in Geopolitics & Cybersecurity at Royal Holloway. Her research interests are in representations, perceptions and constructions of the figure of the soldier in geopolitical and cyberspaces. A former police officer and reservist soldier, she is also Poetry Editor for The Next Review magazine.  She can be contacted at pip.thornton.2013@live.rhul.ac.uk or @Pip_T )

June 11th, 2014 - 02:07am

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