“Light is a temporal phenomenon, arising from burning stars; a surprise in the darkness of space. Light is the greatest magic of all, as it is the source of all enchantment. Without light, no life. Without life, no creation, no art, no architecture, no vision, no expression.”
~ Richard Rogers, as quoted in Lightopia: Volume I
After many decades of niche experimentation by prominent artists like Dan Flavin, Carlos Ruiz-Diez, Brigitte Kowanz, and many others, Light Art is emerging internationally as an increasingly popular medium.
Speaking from the perspective of one half of our collective (Caitlind Brown & Wayne Garrett), our awareness of the potentials (and limitations) of Light Art has expanded considerably, spurred by our hyper-paced experience with Light Festivals around Europe and contrasted against slower exhibitions of light-oriented artworks (Light Show at the Hayward Gallery in London, Lightopia at Design Museum Gent, Belgium, and the International Centre for Light Art in Unna, Germany).
Above: Lightopia design exhibition. Left: ‘Candle in Wind’ by Ingo Maurer and Moritz Waldemeyer. Right: ‘Bourrasque’ by Paul Cocksedge
These epiphanies center around the presence and purpose of light within art, critical discourse, and museum culture, while dissecting public light-based events’ double-edged potential to promote spectacle, entertainment, or frivolous consumption of visual media.
For us, this conversation is multifaceted. We believe in light art’s radical potential to permeate public space and freely attract people, altering and changing their perspectives, sometimes permanently. While we deeply respect the magical exploits of Light Festivals, we wonder about the unexplored critical potential of this context. Are spectacle and criticality necessarily at odds? What is the intrinsic value of using light as a material?
For us, the real magic of light lies in the immateriality of illumination. From our observation, timeless light-based works are often analog or organic in nature, employing physics (rather than digital trickery) as a foundation. Light creates a space, a mood, a feeling that is itself temporary and traceless. Anthony McCall’s installation Line Describing a Cone is the epitome of the medium’s ability to be both a sculptural form, seemingly solid and dimensional, and a ghostly non-physical presence.
The simultaneously present and absent quality of light has been explored by artists, advertisers, filmmakers, and lighting designers alike, often to communicate changing messages without leaving a trace. From LED billboards to projection mapping on buildings, forums of this sort allow space for everything from temporary civil disobedience to collective re-imagination of shared spaces – essential to functional urban ecosystems.
Within this analogy, public art is by no means employed as a didactic force, rather, it works as an optimistic catalyst and purveyor of potential. The result is uncertain and open-ended – ultimately, the viewer is left with the final decision of how to act, react, or interact with a space. The immateriality of light allows it a further, magical quality – the ability to create spaces, both real and illusory, transforming spaces from day to night.
Essentially, Light Art can not only change what we see, but how we see it. And while, like an after-image, this change in sight may be only temporary, the epiphanies spurred can be permanent. It’s with all of this in mind that we approached the Call for Proposals for a new public light installation for Aitken Place Park.