PhD Statement Show
Originating in a consideration of the aesthetic concept of atmosphere, this research seeks to investigate how light is more than a physical matter or circumstance. Rather, it should be conceived as an aesthetic perception and a cultural experience that frames allusions of site and context, integrating them in an atmospheric narration situated in the context of contemporary Hong Kong.
Light is an everyday phenomenon, yet it remains an intangible ‘material’ that is hard to apprehend. We intuitively associate light with vision, though we don’t see light itself. Light is the medium within which our sight takes place, and we see but its reflections and its varying degrees of brightness.We see illuminated things and not light.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has already established in his Theory of Colour that light is the pre-condition for the phenomenon of colours. What we perceive through degrees of brightness is a mixture of colours, each defined by a different electromagnetic wavelength emitted by the source of light and reflected by some kind of surface. Seeing, or rather perceiving 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 the domains of 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, 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. As such, our relationship with light, the way we live within it and the manner in which it shapes our identities is a subject of cultural and historical enquiry.
Lightscapes – a term that describes our lit environment that is generated, shaped and influenced by natural light and artificial light – is a concept that implies a collective cultural dimension that “impairs the depth and diversity of this experience,” says Edensor. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, the German philosopher who argues for the recognition of aesthetics as an academic discipline in its own right, describes knowledge that implies a coherent intuitive understanding which is given to us directly by sense experiences.
Lightscapes and their perception qualifies as sensuous knowledge and the appraisal and study of such entails the development of culturally-specific 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 the quotidian in a culturally specific way; they are comprehensive tools that aid in our understanding of the visual, the tangible as well as the intangible and experiential aspects of the places we inhabit.
The exploration of lightscapes evolves alongside theory and practice-based research. To begin, a visual ethnographic investigation Hong Kong’s lightscapes are traced, analysed and then expanded through creative practice. In additional artistic research, conducted through smaller artworks as well as exhibition contexts, the phenomenon of light and colour is probed to substantiate how and what we perceive in light and lightscapes. 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.
About the Exhibition
The exhibition was divided into two sections in the two rooms of the gallery. The first, smaller room showcases the journey of my PhD research that led up to the main installation via a) a selection of artworks produced throughout the programme period; alongside b) documentations of other relevant artworks that couldn’t be shown within the show; as well as c) the visual ethnographic research 24 Hours Hong Kong and the work Colourspaces and their accompanying publications with interviews and texts reflecting and complementing my investigations; and d) booklets with selected artworks and references providing a further theoretical framework and contextualisation.
The second space, the main, large gallery, showcases the expansive light installation Lightscape Sequence ‘Fragrant Harbour’ that integrates the findings of the theoretical research and the insights aggregated during the production of the previous experimental works into a comprehensive experiential narration.
A documentation of the statement show can be found in the separate publication “On Lightscapes: Exploring the Cultural Aesthetic and Narrativities of Light and Colour in Hong Kong” in the Appendix or at: