On the south side of Luleå’s central peninsula, in the first and last weeks of the biennial, a monumental light work by the artist Vishal K Dar will play out. Six beams of light from three locations – the crane at Södra Hamn, Cementa’s silo, and the barge - will move in precise mechanic rhythm making spatial diagrams in light along the coast, on the water and in the sky. The three sites sit on the edge of the city, separated by 145 degrees. As the temperature drops, the water will become solid and the distinction between ground and water will dissolve. In this way, the work takes place in two steps: when that distinction exists and when it doesn’t. With a background in architecture and a deep interest in the scientific understanding of the physical laws of light and space, Dar creates a work in which darkness itself assumes the status of icon. The beams move by a pre-programmed time-index that has them appear and disappear in turn.
Your light installations are placed at three sites on the south side of Luleå’s central peninsula; the barge, the crane, the silos, and they function as a type of clock for the biennial. Tell us a bit more.
Before we begin, let me share a piece of history about the Crane. There used to be two cranes on this old bay. They were both ordered to be dismantled when the bay was moved. But then the city decided to keep one as a memento, that's the one we see today. A holding onto a moment that gives us an image of the past. The once mighty crane is now rendered motionless, lifeless, purposeless. That’s a trauma for the site.
Dirghtamas (Long Night) is an urban multi-site work. The installation is not inside an architecture, like my previous works - the chimney at the Shanghai Biennial and the warehouse in Pune - but outside in the open urban space along the edge of land and water. Light is ephemeral. There is no materiality to it, but 'it' makes things visible. It calls focus on the elements that fall in its path and on the surface on which it falls. This phenomenological aspect of light is of immense interest to me because it goes beyond material. It also extends my investigations with the sky-tracking light fixture - an invention from the world war period. The sky-tracker was a device that 'hunted' planes in the dark. Later, it purpose gets inverted in post war America where Hollywood uses it for movie premieres to 'mark the spot' of the film theatre.
Here in Luleå we can see six beams of light from three locations, places that sit on the edge of the city, separated by 135 degrees. As time grows colder, water become ground, making the edge disappear. Oscillating Beams of light possess these three sites, assuming the form of cosmological clocks, making the large site-objects appear delirious (like a ghoulish leviathan - devourer of labor). The beams of light work like breath for these industrial effigies. It appears as if the stars themselves are being put to work in quiet chaotic darkness. The beams perform to a time-index (schedule) of appearance/disappearance - kinetics of the pendulum that becomes some kind of intertwined balletic oscillation - setting the meter (poetic rhythm) of chaos within the city mandala, industry and war calls.
The sites appear as some sort of strange creatures of a past. Silent, blind creatures. The beams of light as breath and not sight, makes the work appear like an act of possession, suggesting through its ephemerality. And then at some point in time that possession evaporates.
What is your entry point to this?
When I was in the Finnish Sapmi in the dead of winter in 2015, I saw frozen landscapes for the first time in my life. I also very quickly realized that nothing in this landscape was 'dead'. The trees had shed their leaves to conserve energy while the sun was out. There was no light, so there was no photosynthesis. The tree was in hibernation so that it could keep living. The river was frozen but not dead. Underneath everything was alive.
I have a background in architecture, and for the last seven years I have shifted my focus to site specific art projects. These sites are largely abandoned, marginalized, out of function. I activate them with beams of oscillating light. As a medium, Light is hauntingly beautiful as a phenomenon, and electric light pushes that phenomenon making because you can control it, you can sculpt it. In the case of Dirghtamas, my point of entry is the geography of the city and its objects. I was told parts and pieces of the history of war, of industry, of mining (both the strange new contemporary concept of bitcoins and iron ore), and the presence of (I am told, the largest outside of USA) Facebook data centre. It's interesting to see how the old mines goes on while the bitcoin mining has vanished. I became interested in this multi-layered co-habitation of activities and ideas.
One aspect of the landscape that we wanted to work with for the Luleå Biennial 2018: Tidal Ground, is the notion of darkness, both literally and metaphorically. The ambivalent aspect of darkness triggered us, can you tell us how you have undertaken this very heavy darkness in the region as your material?
Let me begin with my very own relationship with light. Coming from south Asia, I have a different relation with the sun. The closer we are to the equator, the warmer the light from the sun. This warm light has a physical impact on our body and our minds. In the arctic, the same sun will produce a whole different impact. I feel the absence of such darkness in my part of the world, and that connects my mind and my body to this location in ways I don't think I can express. It's all felt.
The first point of entry is in the title itself - Dirghtamas. Dirgh means long, and tamas means darkness. They are absolute translations, they are not metaphoric translations. Darkness could also refer to a state of not-yet-discovered, a state of sleep, hibernation. But here I want to say that for me 'tamas' does not only refer to 'darkness', but also to 'night-time'. Because up here in the north during this time of the year, night becomes day. Then light as a transformative element is quite magical. There is such physicality to this poetry.