Previously, I referred to the common notion that a blending of light and shadows brings places to life. The revelatory aspect of light, as enlightening space, carries with it the surfacing of texture, depth, and form. The light which marks the interior of the domestic home, for instance, is at once homely and distant thanks to the darkness from which the lighting is offset. Void and presence entwine, allowing the body to be surrounded by a place with attributes distinct from the outside. As a result, the lighting of place is at the same time the means by which place becomes visible as qualitative, embodied, and sensory place.
Indeed, such is the centrality of light to the formation of place that Junichiro Tanizaki, author of In Praise of Shadows, is prepared to state that: “In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house” (p. 28). Further still, Tanizaki goes on to describe how Japanese design orients itself around “neutral colors so that the sad, fragile, dying rays can sink into absolute repose” (Ibid., p. 30). The emphasis on the neutrality of space as a platform on which shadows form underscores the dynamic texturing of surfaces, as both morphing and enduring in time.
This confidence in depth, darkness, and mystery is, of course, largely obliterated today. No need to lament. In its place, a shadowless environment. Consider how this is played in terms of depth. The significance of depth is thus that it projects a qualitative dimensionality to space, which establishes itself as distinct from the geometry of a given place. Yet the flourishing of light and place is not simply constrained to the visual realm. Rather, the combination of geometrical properties and lighting instils an environment, which, though channelled through vision, affects the entire bodily experience. Thus, in the site/non-place/heterotopia, the eyes do not detach themselves from the rest of the body, but instead filter the affective dimension of the lighting—harsh, cold, and sterile—through the entire body.
In the face of industrial-scale halogen or fluorescent lighting, the play of surface and form is undermined by the colonising of consistency and the erasure of diversity. Because of this harshness, finding our way in a shadowless environment proves awkward. “The lighting,” writes Merleau-Ponty, “directs my gaze and causes me to see the object, so that in a sense it knows and sees the object” (p. 361). To know and to see the object means being able to place that object within a given context. Moreover, to have emerged form the dark is a prerequisite for finding out way in place. In relation, Merleau-Ponty goes on to say the following concerning vision and lighting:
If I imagine a theatre with no audience in which the curtain rises upon illuminated scenery, I have the impression that the spectacle is in itself visible or ready to be seen, and that the light which probes the back and foreground, accentuating the shadows and permeating the scene through and through, in a way anticipates our vision (p. 361).
The framing of place thanks to light thus serves to enforce a scene of visibility, even when that content of that vision is missing. As such, light gives form, and so pre-empts our navigation into and from place. By contrast, in the site, the aggressive lighting renders visible an appearance without form. In effect, all that is being lit is the presentation of a place de-formed by the very light that aspires to impose a form upon it. Without form, without texture, and without the shadows which lead us into place, the site disembodies, disperses, and disturbs the relation between body and world, such that the centrality of hereness must be called into question.