Text: Marco Ludwig
Photos: Oliver Blum Film + Photography

05. Nov 2011

The aesthetic of lighting atmospheres
On the atmospheric effect of light as a design tool

It is obviously no longer a matter of light to see by, but rather light in its own right – to attract attention. Such lighting installations and schemes re-present an intervention in the immaterial quality of the urban environment and constitute a very specific way of experiencing space. One might further claim that they are sup-porting tendencies that aim ataestheticizing social reality. One fine example of this are the lighting festivals held in various cities around the globe, such as Luminale in Frankfurt-on-Main in Germany or Fêtes de la Lumière in Lyon, France: urban spaces are temporarily turned into a stage for a series of trivially aesthetic, albeit specifically or randomly selected lighting scenarios, that conceptualize their alleged dramaturgical content by using terms such as “cultural lighting spectacle”, thus proclaiming and underscoring their event nature. The urge for installations of this kind to want to affect the cities that host them in the way they do might well be regarded as a form of compensation for their “internally acknowledged” fading significance, in the sense that they have no ambition to incorporate anything significant content-wise, represent any-thing in the way of architectural lighting design or express anything of note at all. Colourfully lit facades often constitute little more than a superficial aesthetic, which is not the result of an inner logic, that is to say not necessary from the point of view of the actual function or formal language of the architecture, but is motivated by an expressive – or even impressive – content of its own. Architectural facades that have received a lighting design of this kind come across as an image of some-thing emanating from within; they appear not to feel remotely obliged to deliver any references as to con-tent that might support viewers’ immediate sensory spatial experience when confronted with them. If we can agree that large-scale lighting events of this kind are examples of an aesthetically produced illusion, or of an attempt to enforce the encroachment of the aesthetic into our living environments (urban environments, in particular), we can infer a further, general observation that applies to current cultural developments. At this point in my discourse it will suffice to provide a simple outline: if the field of simulacra starts to take more of a leading role in determining our visual environment, we will experience an advance in the world of surfaces (“surficiality”).
Such a process can only mean the gradual repression of another, to a certain extent more profound, level of reality. With regard to light in the public realm in general, and so-called lighting festivals in particular, we are faced with the theoretical task of defining this repression of reality in favour of the spectacular, and promotionally effective festivalisation of our towns and cities, and must consequently ask ourselves […]

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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 79.

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