Institute of Light

Course sample

Light courseThis is the outline of an interdisciplinary course relevant to architects, photographers, writers, philosophers, visual artists and designers

The theoretical component is designed to explore the possibilities for design which result from the choice of light as a dominant concern. Reference is made to the political difficulties which accompany such a choice. Of great moment in the course is the modern transformation of light from a sacred medium of illumination to a tool for practical use.

Light course


Maholy-Nagy's Institute of Light. Difference between medium and practice; significance of light compared to sound, flavour, smell and feel


Plato's myth of the cave; Enlightenment; Derrida's critique of `heliocentrism'


Temple as structure for light; Hannukah; Pantheon; opposition between ray and voice


Evolution of celestial photography; day as a unit of time; cultural history of Stonehenge


Fireside as a space for reverie; candle in the window; fire as a power of civilization; pyrotechnicsLight course

Electric light

Light as an extension of police powers; light in interrogation and control of behaviour; placing light on tap


Development of holography; light develops from source of illumination to tool of use


Aesthetic relationship between light and water; arrangement of space for the spontaneous movement of light; ecstatic light events

Dark silence

Antithesis of light; gothic; mystery; architectural function of darkness


Light as a design tool; opposition between screen and window as apertures for reality
Sample quotations for element of light #9


A. Dark spaces in architecture, e.g., the boarding house

The indestructible furniture which every other household throws out finds its way to the lodging house, for the same reason that the human wreckage of civilization drifts to hospitals for the incurable.

For its true we've seen Louis XVI have his accident...those are things that can easily happen, you see, whereas middle- class boarding houses are firmly settled, unchanging things, they don't have upsets like that: you can do without a king but you can't do without your dinner.

BalzacOld Goriot1834 p. 32, 238

The basement in the filmSilence of the Lambs

B. Darkness as ignorance

The whole thing is planned on the model of an imaginary walk. First comes the dark wood of the authorities (who cannot see the trees), where there is no clear view and it is easy to go astray. Then there is a cavernous defile through which I lead my readers -- my specimen dream with its peculiarities, its details, its indiscretions and its bad jokes -- and then, all at once, the high ground and the open prospect and the question: `Which way do you want to go?'

Freud's letter to Fliess about theInterpretation of Dreams(6.8.1899)

Madness... has nearly always been associated with images of primitivity and wildness, with peremptory urges emerging from some dark and subterranean place.

Sass, Louis A.Madness and Modernism1992, p. 74

Dealing with something from the perspective of the Absolute consists merely in declaring that, although one has been speaking of it just now as something definite, yet in the Absolute, the A = A, there is nothing of the kind, for there all is one. To pit this single insight, that in the Absolute everything is the same, against the full body of articulated cognition, which at least seeks and demands such fulfilment, to palm off its Absolute as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black -- this is cognition naively reduced to vacuity.

Hegel, G. W. F.The Phenomenology of Spirit(transl. A. V. Miller) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977 (orig. 1952/1807), p. 9

C. Darkness as self-examination

When he had retired for the night, Sextius would question his soul: `What bad habit have you cured today? What fault have you resisted? In what respect are you better?' Seneca, too, undertakes an examination of this kind every evening. Darkness -- `when the light has been removed from my sight' -- and quiet -- `when my wife has become silent' -- are its external conditions.

Foucault, MichelThe Care of the Self,1986, p. 61

D. Darkness as private space

Everything that lives...needs the security of darkness to grow at all. This may indeed be the reason that children of famous parents so often turn out badly.... But exactly the same destruction of the real living space occurs wherever the attempt is made to turn the children themselves into a kind of world. Among these peer groups then arises public of a sort and, quite apart from the fact that it is not a real one and that the whole attempt is a sort of fraud, the damaging fact remains that children --that is, human beings in process of becoming but not yet complete--are thereby forced to expose themselves to the light of public existence.

Arendt, HannahThe Crisis in Education, 1954, p. 61

E. The feminist critique of light

For the prisoner who knows nothing of the art of dialectic and the powers of the ideal, the intolerable part of nature,physis, would be the blinding brilliance of the fire, the sun. The philosopher, on the other hand, who has already bent light to his logic, cannot tolerate the sympathetic magic of the shadwoy vault of fantasies, the hallucination, the "madness".

Irigaray, LuceSpeculum of the Other Woman(transl. G. C. Gill) Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985 (orig. 1974), p .276

Why should we not be illuminated by the light of ourjouissance? Which casts a different light on things, on their contours, their spacing and their timing. It brings them back into the world, and reshapes them accordning to a perception foreign to the rigour of the day, which makes colder distinctions. For sigh is no longer our only guide. Seeing within an expanse which is dazzling and palpable, odorous and audible. A night of sensation where everything lives together, permitting co-existence without violence.

Irigaray, Luce `Elemental Passions' (transl. J. Collie & J. Still) New York: Routledge, 1992 (orig. 1982), p. 38

Before orality comes to be, touch is already in existence. No nourishment can compensate for the grace, or the work, of touching. Touch makes it possible to wait, to gather strength, so that the other will return to caress and reshape, from within and from without, flesh that is given back to itself in the gestures of love. The most subtly necessary guardian of my life being the other's flesh.

Irigaray, Luce `The fecundity of the caress: A reading of Levinas,Totality and Infinitysection IV B, `The phenomenology of eros' In R. A. Cohen (ed.)Face-to-Face with LevinasNew York: State University of New York Press, 1986, p. 232

psychoanalysis identifies and relates as an indispensable condition for autonomy a series of splittings (Hegel spoke of a `work of the negative'); birth, weaning, separation, frustration, castration. Real, imaginary, or symbolic, those processes necessarily structure our individuation. Their nonexecution or repudiation leads to psychotic confusion; their dramatization is, on the contrary, a source of exobitant and destructive anguish. Because Christianity set that rupture at the very heart of the absolute subject -- Christ; because it represented it as a Passion that was the solidary lining of his Resurrection, his glory, and his eternity, it brought to consciousness the essential dramas that are internal to the becoming of each and every subject. It thus endows itself with a tremendous cathartic power.

Kristeva, JuliaBlack Sun: Depression and Melancholia(transl. L. Roudiez) New York: Columbia University Press, 1989 (orig. 1987), p. 132