In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Monday, March 1, 2010

Arguments of Light by Vaughn Sadie

In 1807, gas-lighting was first installed the streets of Europe, fundamentally shifting the conception and experience of urban environments. According to an article entitled “Arguments against Light” published in the Cologne Zeitung in 1816, this new street lighting was objectionable on a number of theological, judicial, medical, moral and socio-economic standpoints. From a contemporary standpoint, it is difficult to imagine lightless cities, let alone a delegation of those against it. The fear was that lighting the city would lead to illness, depravity, economic loss and would tamper with ‘the divine plan of the world’. Almost two hundred years later, artificial light not only permeates our public and private spaces, but shapes the ways in which we experience the world. So ever-present are these forms of lighting, that they have become banal and imperceptible. We tend not to notice them or the light and colour they emit. Until they go out.

This paper will explore the relationship between artificial light, colour and space, and how this contributes to the construction of our urban environments. For the purpose of this paper, I will be focusing on a series of examples of domestic and public uses of artificial light that draw on electricity (such as, compact fluorescents, tungsten light bulbs and mercury vapour street lamps). The discussion is therefore not focused necessarily on different colours, but on the intricacies of tone, arguing that meaning and significance has been attached to the design and tone of these lights, that fundamentally shape our experience of space. Artificial lights, and their tonalities, shape our understanding and experience of time and space, often more than we recognise.

Lefebvre, in his spatial triad, argues that space is produced by the relationship between ‘representations of space’, ‘representational space’ and ‘spatial practices’. These relationships are imbued with power (Massey) and it is in the light of this thinking, that I argue that artificial light is both a manifestation of dominant ideologies and a mechanism of social control.

In order to illustrate this argument, I will be using examples of the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Dan Flavin, in relationship to my own work.

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