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About Darkness (2016-)

Darkness is a state of our physical world, but as the same time it is a feature experienced by living creatures. For humans’, darkness also forms a philosophical question about sensing and experiencing the world when eyes are redundant. Experiencing darkness rises questions from blindness to seeing and from learning to see to the difficulties of developing the machine vision.

Today, the artificial lightning is almost ubiquitous and only in the deepest countryside it is possible to experience somewhat complete natural darkness under the open sky. Artificial light is one of the most visible signals of human activity on earth – it is easily visible to satellites orbiting the globe and can be detected even from outer parts of our solar system. At the same time, it is the most unstable as a major power outage can turn a great part of a continent into complete darkness.

On the one hand darkness is frightening or sublime, but on the other hand it enables privacy and intimacy. Under the open sky darkness reveals views that are hidden during the day, while the darkness under the cloud covered night sky builds an obstacle between the perceiver and the visible environment. At theatre it provides a foundation for performances that moves us. In a bedroom, darkness makes possible to concentrate on the feeling of another body against your own. Depending on the context, the experience of darkness can be special or mundane. The study about darkness gives new understanding about the aesthetic qualities and experiences of it and assists in considering the special characteristics of the darkness in contemporary culture.

If one can reject the fear of darkness and give herself a possibility to experience its true nature, the darkness will become less intimidating – even friendly. In a few minutes human eyes become adapted and it is possible to see in almost pitch-black conditions. The adaptation of eyes enhances vision so radically that it is possible to walk or even ride a bike along a country road illuminated only by stars and airglow. It is possible to see the effect of adaptation indoors: the faint afterglow of a fluorescent light is visible over a minute after the electricity is cut. When one allows darkness to be friendly instead of hostile, these and other unique experiences will become achievable.

In an environmental context the questions about darkness is intertwined with ecological and health issues ranging from energy consumption to health effects of continuous illumination and from feeling of safety to the consequences of night time light for wildlife in urban areas. For instance, the fear of crime is used as a reason for increasing the illumination in cities, even though statistics show that the night time crime takes place in the areas with adequate lightning. Furthermore, excessive and badly designed illumination disturbs both humans and natural life. Inconsiderate illumination prevents appreciation of the dark skies, except in the deep countryside.

In addition to the expanding the cultural understanding, the research about the qualities of darkness provides new qualitative knowledge for instance to the environmental and ecological discourses. On practical level it can illuminate city planning and urban design. Moreover, the research can provide valuable knowledge in questions about posthumanism and anthropocene. The aesthetic footprint of lighting is more widespread and deeper than most are willing to admit.

The research aims to show that darkness can be seen as something valuable and not something automatically illuminated and shed away. Seeing dark as a phenomenon that should be preserved instead of the customary perspectives of fear and safety, the research advocates alternative approaches to dealing with it. The results may provide new ideas for urban planning and preservation of dark sites in the contemporary world.


"Reconsidering Darkness." Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 17 (2019)