scotopia

“Darkness is not the mere absence of light; it has some positive quality. Whereas bright space disappears, giving way to the material concreteness of objects, darkness is “thick”; it directly touches a person… The feeling of mystery we experience at night probably stems from this.” [Caillois, 1935]

Scotopia is vision in dim light. When investigating light, it quickly becomes apparent that the term ‘light’ is an unsatisfactory descriptor; it brings an incomplete set of connotations. For instance, in this essay, when I am not speaking about the actual substance of light, I am using it as a gauge – light/less light/no light. In this case I am using the term ‘light’ in a very broad sense to mean light and darkness. I have come to argue that brightness and darkness are not separate states, but the same condition in space perceived from opposite reference points. On becomes off, black becomes white, and the solid object gives up the space it occupied.

”…architecture becomes visible not simply by its existence in light but in the creation of a penumbral zone between darkness and light” [Borys, 2004]

The importance of darkness in our everyday lives is undervalued. “Darkness is a precondition of seeing something. i.e. that there are such things as definition, articulation and determinateness” [Bohme, 2009] Bohme makes a point about the literal and aesthetic necessity of darkness in our vision and perception of space.

The role of darkness can seem undefined in today’s 24 hour culture. Urban zones are lit day and night, forests of isolated street lamps glow ground and sky alike. It is well noted that light pollution in our cities endanger migrating birds’ journey, confusing and disorientating them. Darkness is a natural occurrence, ‘a state of place’ common in every part of the world, yet it remains somewhat mysterious.

An interesting thing occurs when you consider darkness as having a material quality; it becomes dense, capable of weighing against you. Similar to ‘Luminaesthesia,’ this unreal haptic sense conjures complex relationships in our consciousness between the conceptual notions of luminescence and solidity. 

Perhaps this mysterious yet fundamental sensation holds an explanation for our fascination with broader unsolved questions; such as those concerning infinity, space and dreams, not to mention their esoteric counterparts like particle physics, anatomy of the brain, spiritual healing et al.

  1. Portmanteau. Scotos + -opia. Scotopia is a portmanteau that pre-exists my study, which means ‘vision in dim light’.
  2. Caillois,R [1935], The Edge of Surrealism: a Roger Caillois reader,, Duke University Press, p101
  3. Ann Marie Borys [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p3
  4. Gernot Bohme, [2009] Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz, p72
  5. “Urban street lighting is now taken for granted in many parts of the world. Its significance is not immediately apparent to everyone any longer, “it is just there” […] The new, permanent illumination of 200 years ago enabled citizens to use exterior spaces at night […] Lanterns were destroyed during the riots in Paris, Berlin and Vienna […] Public lighting was regarded as a key instrument in the system of domination” [Ulrike Brandi, 2007, Light for Cities: lighting design for urban spaces, a handbook, Springer, p150]