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Light Research @ MMU

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

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