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Light Research @ MMU

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

Tino Seghal’s ‘This Variation’

IMayfield Depot, Manchester‘ve just been to a magical event, part of Manchester International Festival, that relies upon the power of the dark and the ability of the eye’s cone cells to gradually become accustomed to seeing in the dark.. The location is a disused and derelict part of Piccadilly Train Station, vacant for many years, that has been opened up as a venue for the festival. Visitors enter the cavernous premises and are guided to a room along a short passageway. Inside, all is completely dark, save for a faint light in the ceiling. The room’s dimensions are impossible to guess, and imagined it had areas that sloped, with perhaps sudden drips bounded by railings. In the absence of light, the mind imagines all sorts of things. In the pitch black, we suddenly became aware of chirrupping noises all around us, and then sonorous voices accompanied these sounds, along with an array of other vocal effects. These seemed to be recorded and animated the darkness with a liveliness that had been initially absent. Yet suddenly, one’s eyes start to become accustomed to the gloom. At first, only vague shadowy forms can be ascertained, but gradually the flat, square shape of the room becomes apparent, and then the figures take on more substantial form. Magically, eyes become attuned to the darkness, and it is evident that many of the figures  in the room are performers, and they are responsible for the sounds and, we notice, movements as well. The ever-changing soundscape shifts from acapella singing to better known songs, occasionally changing into spoken words, and then a romantic slow song is the trigger for the dancers to gently draw close to the visitors, embracing them in a slow dance. It becomes comical to watch new arrivals, edging into the room, arms outstretched, but we are now part of the event, joining in the dance, responding to the performers. Tino Sehgal, designer of the event, is guided by an anti-materialistic ethos, and aims to present work that moves away from the display of (valuable) art objects and towards human interaction, creating ‘constructed situations’ that cannot be recorded and exist solely in the mind and memory of the participants.

July 17th, 2013 - 15:31pm

The Rain Room at MOMA, New York

Nona Schulte-Roemer sent this link to the Rain Room exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If you are there before 28th July, 2013, we’d heartily recommend a visit: The efficacy of the effect depends upon the intense carbon arc lamps known as klieg lights. Motion sensors pause the rain where a body is detected. The New York blog Gothamist writes that the ‘overall effect is mesmerizing–semi-blinding white klieg light at the back of the room disorients your field of vision while highlighting the millions of individual raindrops showering down around you on all sides’.

The Rain Room

May 15th, 2013 - 16:29pm

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

Thomas Wilfred: Pioneering Light Artist

On our recent trip to LA, we visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where we were thrilled to discover an installation by Danish pioneering light artist, Thomas Wilfred, an absorbing, ever changing work, Opus 162 (1967-8). Opus  is produced by Wilfred’s invention, the ‘colour organ’, a kind of mechanical box full of devices that orchestrates light by projecting an array of effects onto a screen. He conceived light art as a disinctly expressive medium combined refraction, colour, intensity and shadow in a silent display though drawing on how a musical composer might use melody and rhythm. These works were thus akin to music in their ongoing elicitation of moods and thoughts, and influenced the psychedelic artists of the 1960s. Well worth a visit if you’re in L.A.












May 3rd, 2013 - 12:17pm