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THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT


THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT by Daniel Boda


TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. A brief history of light Birth Prometheus Industrialization Today

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II. Realisation of existence The beauty of light Light pollution Energy poverty Sustainability Embracing darkness

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III. The project Concept Structure Technical specifications Symbolism Issues IV. Conclusion

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LIGHT


BIRTH

May that be the Big Bang theory or creationism, there is no doubt about it that life on Earth became a possibility from a combination of water and light. Single-celled organisms evolving into photoautotrophs creating a steady cycle of oxygen aiding in the formation of multicellular life. “... And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:3 Probably one of the most famous fragments taken from the Book of Genesis, the source of inspiration for many works of art in painting, music, media. However in religious views the birth of light is rarely discussed separately. It is seen as a gift to humanity to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, it is directly connected to the divine. Ra being the God of the Sun in Egyptian, Helios in Greek, and Apollo in Roman mythology. Before the birth of these gods, or titans there was only nothing, the void, chaos or misery. To humanity light has always been ‘there’. It allowed us to measure time, the changing of seasons. The heat and radiation of the Sun made it possible for us and other organisms to survive on this planet. Therefore we always took light for granted as a part of our existence. Also to give meaning to topics beyond our comprehension. Light used as a metaphor for knowledge, the divine and enlightenment.

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PROMETHEUS

TODAY

The invention of artificial light was a major turning point in the history of humanity. Earliest evidence of human controlled use of fire dates back to roughly 1.4 million years ago. With proof of widespread usage and our ancestors being able to start a fire from 300,000 to 800,000 years ago.

The boundless spread of devices burning is something we barely pay attention to today. Enjoying the comfort of fast transportation not just between cities but continents and all around the globe.

This meant a massive change in human behavior; in biology allowing a different diet, safety from predators at night and even controlling the environment they lived in by lighting up caves providing warmth or granting light over the surrounding area.

All our devices in our home running off electricity or a different source of energy aiding us in our daily survival.

Controlled fire resulted in the first steps out of the Old Stone Age with the introduction of domestication, agriculture, pottery, and early records of warfare.

INDUSTRIALIZATION

Using fire as a source of energy made it possible for tools to be crafted to further develop our society. Leading to magnificent architecture, expansion of small towns into cities. Starting from the 16th Century scientists started to unveil the mysteries surrounding light. Starting with René Descartes’ theory of light which is then disproved by Isaac Newton. Initial experiments were made by Galileo Galilei to determine the speed of light and over 300 years later we are at a point where we have started to understand the way light works, we were able to determine the speed of light (in our spectrum). The use of fire, or rather burning in order to release energy has been a staple for industrialization. Light bulbs as they were invented in the 19th century are nothing more than modern, more sustainable versions of controlled fires from our ancestors.

PIERIO VALERIANO ‘HIEROGLYPHICA‘ (LYON, 1586)

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REALISATION OF EXISTENCE


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THE BEAUTY OF LIGHT

Being surrounded by technology in the 21st Century we immediately grab out smartphone to light up the surroundings when we drop something in a dark room. With more than 80% of the Earth’s population living in an environment with electricity and half of those using a smartphone it seems like a natural reaction to something even as simple as finding your keys under the sofa. As of right now I’m sitting in front of two screens, a laptop and over 10 other electronic devices connected together; all of them lit under two 100W lamps. My desktop computer has been running for 13 days, 17 hours straight and counting. My energy bill is a sky-rocketing €63 a month which is considered nearly double the average for a single person living in an apartment. It is the definition of a modern metropolis to be surrounded by light at all times. If I were to go outside I can walk around freely in a well-lit city being able to see and notice landmarks from a distance to help me navigate in the night. These landmarks creating a beautiful view in the dark which characterize the unique landscapes made by them. All capitals providing an exclusive experience based on what time of day it is. It is hard to imagine a life in the absence of technology as it became a more and more dominant part of our life. In the Era of Big Data some may consider that we are defined by our presence on social media and other on-line environments. Global communication became much easier, news reaches every individual at a faster pace up to the point where we even question the validity of what is being projected through our screens at home. This is a point where designers take a significant role to avert miscommunication which perhaps didn’t take effect when the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union widely known as Brexit.

ROTTERDAM AT DUSK, (PENDRECHT, 2016)

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LIGHT POLLUTION

Whenever I walked around at night in the Hague what struck me the most was the visual terror caused by the giant ±2x3m LED billboard on the side of the Media Markt. A store I often visited to look browse for the latest releases from tech companies became a place I was trying to avoid because of a marketing campaign that was supposed to attract more visitors. A city center where I’ve spent multiple nights photographing the mesmerising reflections of lights on the old pavement and smoky alleys became blunt by a bright red light coming from the Media Markt. Due to the widespread usage of light there are also negative impacts being discussed, such as the disruption of our ecosystem, wildlife and an escalation in energy consumption. Research also addresses that increased exposure to artificial light has a negative effect on humanity resulting in sleep disorders, depression and obesity. ENERGY POVERTY

However in the comfort of our homes it is easy to forget that an estimate of 1.4 billion people live without access to electricity. And not just in developing countries but even in cities where energy poverty isn’t seen as an issue. Impeding the progress of health, safety, education and rural development. Many resort to using biomass fuels such as crop waste, dung, wood to meet their energy needs. One defines energy poverty if they don’t have access to more than 120kWh per capita per year for lighting. Meaning that my annual energy usage of 3600kWh would be sufficient to sustain 30 people in poverty. 14


LIGHT POLLUTION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY INSTITUTE (ISTIL)


SUSTAINABILITY

This calculation does not include the construction of modern energy infrastructure like power plants, transmission lines to deliver energy resources to their destination which is a much bigger challenge to the aiding cooperators. Scientists are hoping to propel civilization into an era free of energy dependency which has been the cause of many violent conflicts based on oil’s availability. With green power made available for domestic consumption, an investment into solar power for your own household can be worthwhile in just a few years. But also nations worldwide are investing more into renewable and clean energy sources. These developments lead to newer technologies, for example Nissan’s hybrid racing car competing in the 2014 Le Mans, the appearance of Formula E (a class of auto racing that uses only electric-powered cars). While these may seem like insignificant steps; the technology developed by these companies will end up in our devices placing more emphasis on renewable energy and clean emission.

16 FORMULA E TYPE RACING CAR (2016) JAGUAR RACING’S


the development of society, but try to approach it from various perspectives. Seeing the cities as of today I’m not sure if all communities could say the same about their happiness. Based on a survey from 2013, 53% of Londoners feel lonely. With all the possibilities in jobs, education and health there are an increasing number of communities forming ‘off-grid’ detached from modern society.

EMBRACING DARKNESS

There is a concern that I was unable to let go during my research for this project, which is the future. If I imagine an utopia where energy poverty and sustainability aren’t seen as an issue and all of humanity lived in the Era of Free Energy, is that a solution to our problems? After having watched a short documentary filmed by photographer Peter DiCampo about energy poverty in Ghana; It was asked from the communities whether they were happy with their lives, living in energy poverty and they all responded positively. The issue I see is that with the arrival of an energy infrastructure comes the indoctrination of the residents into the consumerist world we live in today.

A specific example is my father who’s goal in the past 15 years was to be completely separated from modern society; building his own sustainable home equipped with solar panels, with water provided from an underground source and living on the food granted by his surroundings. British Richart Sowa, an eco architect has decided to build his own floating island made out of a base with earth and plastic bottles hoping to create his own ecosystem. Having lived in 3 different countries as of today some might consider me the stereotype of a multi-cultural metropolitan man. Living harmoniously with different nationalities, races, religions is the result of a globalised world. Where we are connected with our devices letting us access news— politics, art, culture, etc—at any moment. The consequence of this is cultural homelessness, a detachment from our actual surroundings as we dive deeper into our technology. However the documented societies of Ghana, despite their lack of light and therefore technology were pleased to enjoy each other’s company telling stories surrounding their only source of light at night.

This reminded me of the movie called “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. A South African comedy film whose daily routine change completely once a Coca-Cola bottle lands near their settlement. There have also been notes of aboriginal tribes where the language did not include any words on ownership.

It seems as if we have forgotten that something simple as a candle-lit dinner can be just as, or even more valuable than all the modern Phillips multi-colored lights bulbs in our homes. The ricketing noise of a fireplace has been replaced by surround sound systems.

Now before we would enter the realm of Marxist theories or historical materialism; I am not against

We only start appreciating the existence of light once it is absent. 17


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THE PROJECT

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CONCEPT

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

For my project I wanted to create the limbo that our society faces today. Questioning the development of modern society and reminding people of our past, present and future. It is a moment to stop briefly to rethink our current values in the world and our existence. Where the beauty of light is addressed by the absence of light.

I have based my measurements on the inner hemisphere of the dome, with a diameter of 6 meters. This meant that the sides of the octagon measure roughly around 2.5m in width an entrance wide enough for comfortable access.

STRUCTURE

The outer construction is a dome based on an octagon or so called rhombicuboctahedron. Based on a metal frame, every subdivision of the surface mesh is a source of light turning on at night. The arrangement is completed with four pillars containing brief information on the topics I’ve previously mentioned in my research. In these pillars are also radio jamming devices to detach you from the distant world. Once you enter the inner hemisphere you are surrounded by complete darkness. In a void where you lose all sense of time and space. Only a dimly lit surface to sit down on is visible in the middle of the area. The purpose of my concept is not to show or teach the choices that have to be made for a sustainable future but to participate in a form of passive learning where the experience of having lost control over your senses can lead to new understanding. Embracing complete darkness for a moment and then stepping out into the light again to experience your surroundings for the first time and to approach them from a different perspective.

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The height of the dome is yet to be decided, as maybe a hemisphere with a radius of 3 meters is too small to fit into—taking in consideration the lowered height by the angles on the sides—this could be solved by elevating the ground surface by 1m. The four pillars around the dome are 130cm in height and 40cm in width. The lower side if the angled shape is 80cm giving a slanted platform to read from. These pillars are also a source of light and contain radio jamming devices with an average reach from 1-10m. The inner half-globe is coated with Vantablack (developed in 2014) considered the blackest substance absorbing 99.96% of radiation. According to on-line sources the pigmentation of this material allows for a thin coat of paint with the effective results making it possible for the inside to be entirely dark.


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light pollution

energy poverty


information about the structure

‘genesis’ & history


cross section of the dome

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foot of the seat

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seat designs

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SYMBOLISM

Even though I have little to no religious background I found it crucial not to forget the past since light has a significant role as a metaphor of our history. It defined entire societies and was (or is) an important part of evolution. I wouldn’t like to see this structure as a holy place, but rather to be treated as one. Where you can leave your knowledge and possessions behind even for a limited amount of time to seek answer to your questions; may that be prayers, struggles or making a final decision on dinner. I considered the symbolic context of an octagon shaped dome an important part of the design process. Circle representing perfection, eternity and the divine and a squared shape representing earth. The interplay resulting in an octagon which speaks of a transitional dance between earth and eternity. The symbolic definition of an octagon meaning regeneration, infinity, rebirth and transition. It is also used in conjunction with the eightfold path from Buddhist concepts. And the list continues once we dive into the symbolic meaning of the number 8. The four pillars representing the four earthly elements: earth, water, air, fire and the inside of the dome containing the fifth which is aether. Tjs-ut in Egyptian mythology are the four pillars that Support the Sky, our ascension and spiritual progress. Also the Four Pillars of Destiny in Eastern astrology involving the calculation of a person’s destiny using the values of the birth year, month, day and hour.

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OUROBOROS: RENEWAL OF LIFE, CYCLE (8)

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37DARKNESS DIM LIGHTS ON A SEAT IN


ISSUES

Vantablack — As it currently stands the usage of vantablack is very limited with heavy restrictions on export outside of the United Kingdom. The license for artistic purposes was only granted to the sculptor Anish Kapoor with exclusive rights and a monopoly on the material. So in order to use this material for this project it would have to be in collaboration with Kapoor. There are possibilities of acquiring it through other licensing purposes but I haven’t looked any further into it. However after making it available even in spray form I wouldn’t be surprised if this monopoly was lifted sooner or later. The coating of vantablack would be covered on both sides by an acrylic glass secondary dome to ensure stable temperatures and protection against potential damage. This obviously adds to the overall cost of the project and I’m not sure if it is even produced in such sizes. Another question is the psychological effect of complete darkness on the viewers entering. Being in an environment with sensory deprivation can have dangerous effects on some. It’s been mentioned before that in anechoic chambers people felt nauseous because of increased hearing. So an area where you’re unable to determine space or even your own location would have to be tested on a smaller scale to ensure safety. Placement — The placement takes a significant role in how many visitors can experience it during a day. As of now in my concept there’s no more than one person inside at any moment. Not only to avoid injury but it’s important to experience the dark room surrounding you by yourself. So placing such object in an open area would conclude in an overload of people wanting to enter and many disappointments. I currently have no better idea than placing it in a museum or exhibition which has to have enough space to allow the placement 38

of a 12x12m construction with about 4 meters in height. If placed outside then water and humidity should be taken in consideration as well. Design — An important part of entering and exiting is the path to go in and out of. I came up with two possible ideas one of them a tunnel, and another a plug door. While a plug door might be more optimal, because it doesn’t change the shape of the construction too much, and makes it easier to have a sealed inside it further slows down the process of letting people in and out. The drawbacks of a tunnel leading to the inside is a change in shape. Where the roundness represents perfection, it would become imperfect. However with more time to work on the design this problem could be solved with a better solution. The shape of the seat has to be designed in a way that it wouldn’t obstruct the inside. In my concept drawings I started by depicting the seat as a regular chaise lounge, but soon decided to play around with the shape to make it feel more air-like. However these concept drawings should be adjusted so they actually function as a seat. The lights underneath would have to dim after a while to ensure complete darkness which would allow for a timing towards visitors based on the amount of time they can spend inside. In theory there could be 2 minute intervals of lights turning on and off indicating periods of entering and leaving the room. Radio jammers — There are limitations on the use of radio jammers, and even prohibited by law in the US. I think a license can be granted for this purpose, but it would once again cause difficulties in the placement of it as it can not obscure radio signals from emergency services. It’s also one of the few elements that I wouldn’t know how to make myself, so after a bit of research I found that it is possible to order them from Chinese markets.


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CONCLUSION

Getting an assignment with the topic of light was an interesting experience to go through. The discovery of semiotics within field allowed me to approach the issue from multiple points. I try to deliver a similar encounter by the definition of light as the future of knowledge. I take away our comfortable environment, technology and access to the wide world, allowing room for thought. It is a vantage point for the creation of a better different future. I hope to make the viewer appreciate energy the way I have experienced it throughout my journey of working on this project. Interaction with design not done with the physical but through light.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.� Og Mandino


Daniel Boda j.p.luyb@gmail.com 0031 6 39 2277 04

www.insania.co/

Willem de Kooning Academy


DANIEL BODA — HTTP://INSANIA.CO/


The Absence of Light