[Volvo, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
Empty, abandoned space in which a series of occurrences have taken place seems to subjugate the eye of the urban photographer. Such urban space, which I will denote by the French expression terrain vague, assumes the status of fascination, the most solvent sign with which to indicate what cities are and what our experience of them is.
Ignasi de Solà Morales
Searchlight is a project in response to the Atmosphere 2011 symposium on Mediated Cities. A searchlight is a lighting device that uses a bright light source with an optical system constituted by lenses and reflectors to project powerful parallel luminous rays at a long distance. Searchlights were originally conceived for military application in the 1880s, and used throughout the 2nd World War. Today, searchlights are used in rescues, as a safety gear, in advertising, fairs, festivals, and other public events. Their use was once common for movie premieres; the waving searchlight beams still can be seen as a design element in the logo of the 20th Century Fox movie studio, and Fox television network. The idea for this project is multifold. First we mounted a searchlight on top of our Volvo station wagon, then selected a few sites within the inner city limits of Winnipeg and lighted them with a searchlight in the depth of winter. The chosen sites are quintessential Winnipeg, and describe the city’s perpetual transitional mode—placed in a permanent state of suspension. The second mode for the project is the actual spotlight mounted on top of the station wagon, which will be parked in several sites illuminating particular architectural moments.
[Snow mountain, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
Searchlight offsets the original military use of the technology. The intention now is to activate some significant characters of the city through a dramatic and poetic action. The project invests on the deeply “atmospheric” character of the Winnipeg winter and its terrain vague nature, abstracted by the radical absence of bodies in the city, creating now a cinematic coating on the urbanscape by illuminating the stoic presence of its architecture. The project evokes film noir, where the black & white make-up, added to its dramatic use of light and low-tech approach to filmmaking, usually set in indefinite urban environments.
[Exchange District, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
Searchlight responds to the proposal for Atmosphere [Mediated Cities] through the re-use and the imprint of an old technology onto the cityscape, generating a new representation for the city. Searchlight counterpoints to a more recent local urban account: the Winnipeg police have just purchased a helicopter. In Searchlight the light will be placed in the opposite direction of the police helicopter’s relative point of view, suggesting the possibility of shifting power positions regarding the overriding surveillance apparatus—from the one that surveys to one who is surveyed—making the project a sort of "lost" searchlight, from the ground up instead of from the sky down, emphasizing significant architectural conditions or a particular urban space that otherwise would go unnoticed during the night hours.
Searchlight [1988 Volvo 240DL, 70 watt HID spotlight with 6300 lumens, inkjet printing], 2011.
[Snow sculpture, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
[WAG, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
[Floodway, inkjet print, 24” x 36”]
Thanks to the Atmosphere organizers, the Dean’s office, the Department of Architecture, and Plug In ICA for their support to this project.