This research seeks to investigate how light is more than a physical matter or circumstance, but an aesthetic perception and a cultural experience that frames allusions of site and context integrating them in an atmospheric narration.
Light is an everyday phenomenon, yet an intangible ‘material’ hard to apprehend. We intuitively associate light with vision, though we don’t see light itself. We see in light as we see its reflections, and we perceive degrees of brightness.
Already Johann Wolfgang von Goethe established in his Theory of Colour, that light is the pre-condition for the phenomena of colours. The light we see is a mixture of colours, each with a different frequency and colour the aspect of things that is caused by differing wavelengths of light being reflected or emitted by them. Seeing light and colour is a neuro-biological process: light hits the photo sensitive retina at the back of our eyes where receptors pick up the signal and pass it on to the brain for processing. How we ultimately perceive and understand the processed information exceeds neuro-biological functions and moves into sensual affect and cultural apprehension. James Gibson contends that because this process in the brain, our perception of the visual world, is a phenomenal experience, we may never be impartial or neutral when considering light. Similarly, Kalekin-Fishman and Low confirm that we acquire knowledge “of how meanings are created by ties with people and places” through our senses – in the case of light through sight.
The geographer Dennis Cosgrove distinguishes vision, as opposed to sight, to be culturally conditioned, as a socio-psychological extension of perception. Vision is related to what we see and how our images, imaginations and our imagination’s representations overlap. We perceive conceptions of our environment. How we live in and with light and how it shapes our identity is a cultural construct, or a cultural material.
Lightscapes – describe our lit environment that is generated, shaped and influenced by natural light and artificial light – imply a collective cultural dimension that “impairs the depth and diversity of this experience” says Edensor. The German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, originator of aesthetics as a specific academic discipline, describes knowledge that implies a coherent intuitive understanding which is given to us directly by sense experiences. Lightscapes and their perception is sensuous knowledge and hence entail cultural aesthetics unique to their place. They may reveal knowledge and insight about our everyday life, about our behaviour and conceptions of our environment. In lightscapes light may become an experiential carrier of meaning that narrates our everyday in a culturally specific way; they are comprehensive tools to understanding the visual, tangible but also the intangible and experiential aspects of the places we inhabit.
The outcome of this research – the Lightscape Sequence “Fragrant Harbour” – is an artistic experiment, an investigation to attune to and think with light: from understanding light and colours in their natural and artificial forms in contemporary Hong Kong to translating the found lightscapes into an embodied and reflective installation reflecting a diversity of narratives.
The exhibition is a Statement Show divided in two sections.
Cornelia Erdmann, February 2021