chapter  4
20 Pages

Mood lighting: public illuminations

Night falls in the city. Figures emerge from private houses and gather in the public spaces of the street and the square. A crowd begins to form as eyes are collectively drawn to clusters of lights decorating the city’s ordinarily darkened façades. On some buildings row upon row of candles are displayed, balanced along ledges, while in other properties designs of coloured paper or fabric are stretched across window frames. When illuminated from behind by a candle or lamp these surfaces reveal political, topical or allegorical scenes of vivid transparency causing passers-by to stop, stare and marvel. For a few unusual hours the city, dressed in this ornamental costume of light, is aesthetically transformed. Symbolism, ritual and visual pleasure have temporarily replaced the practicalities of daily life. This is a collective event during which the city joins together to support a civic, political or military cause. The atmosphere is playful, convivial. But as the swell of people gaily moves through the city streets the mood suddenly alters when an unlit property is encountered. The dark, blank face of the building sends an unwelcome message of non-participation to the spectators. In response, hostile voices cry out for ‘Lights! Lights!’ This lack of light is full of meaning. Those who fail to visually support the illumination and its cause are punished. The crowd, reacting to the absence of light, suddenly resembles an angry mob. Improvised missiles are thrown towards the building’s windows and squibs are let off in all directions. The sound of smashing glass indicates that objects have successfully reached their target, and the mob surges on in search of other dark properties.