Community Project, Ucross Foundation, August 5 -August 31
Street Light Project: Coal Creek
Street Light Project is a series of site specific installations comprised of a mercury-vapor lamp street lights. As the name might suggest, mercury-vapor lamps are a type of gas-discharge light bulb that produces light using an electric charge inside vaporized mercury. These lights are known for their durability and were developed in England during the Second World War over fears of literally being left in the dark during bombing raids. Since the 1980's city planners and environmentalists alike have made a call to eliminate mercury-vapor lamps in order to decrease light pollution, energy waste and unwanted pests. As such, the blue green haze of the mercury-vapor lamp, a once ubiquitous part of our cultural landscape, has become a rare sight. In some cases mercury-vapor lights been replaced by high pressure sodium lamps, which emit a yellow light and attract less bugs to urban spaces. Similarly, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use a fraction of the energy compared to be high pressure sodium lamps and mercury-vapor lamps. Yet the effects of LED lights on the flora and fauna of any given place is not entirely understood.
The story of the mercury-vapor lamp doesn’t end there. When public policy and funding for public lighting was changed, few acknowledged the role that public lighting plays in the ecological balance of a place. Consequentially, the swarms of bugs once present around street lights decreased dramatically. Yet these swarms of bugs were once, and in some cases still are the hunting grounds for certain bats. And in those specific circumstances, such bats had adapted to hunt around street lights. When the bugs left, the bats followed.
Moths, the favorite food of bats, are especially easy targets in the presence of the blue-green light from the mercury-vapor lamps. Almost every species of moth becomes very disoriented when they swarm around the blue-green light. Because of this disorientation, moths are oblivious to nearby bats that might be hunting them. To complicate this already bizzare interaction of moths and bats—many moths cannot use a counter sonar that they normally use to mask their identity, size or location when hunted by bats. And in this way bats swoop in, effortlessly finding their favorite meal waiting for them in excess.
Inspired by that context, Street Light Project creates a space to contemplate the interaction of bats, bugs and street lights. Each site from the Street Light Project is removed from its original context, where lights are well known as forms of public safety and utility in human population centers. Placed just outside of that context, each site takes on an otherworldly presence. And as the lights interact with insects and bats an interplay between interior and exterior, human and nonhuman, and progress and retrogress begins to form; evoking the question of who is being served by street lights and our built environment.