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“Ghost Light” (00:06:10) by Mark Niskanen, Jani-Matti Salo, Inkeri Aula, Finland. 2020
In Ghost Light stories of interconnectedness of species are told by an undulating light on an empty theatre stage.
It is a custom for many theatres around the world to leave a light in the middle of a stage overnight. This light is called the ghost light. Its function is to protect—preventing the theatre workers from stumbling on stage in the mornings or falling into the orchestra pit from the edge of the stage.
Theatres also have many superstitious customs relating to the ghost light. Many keep the light on to appease the theatre ghosts, so that they would be able to use the stage for their own performances. On the other hand, some theatres believe that the light keeps the ghosts away.
In the Spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 virus started spreading globally, the theatres began closing around the world. Pictures of empty stages and ghost lights started appearing in social media. The message was unilateral: “We will return!” In the shimmer of the ghost lights there is hope towards solidarity during and after the social isolation caused by the global pandemic.
Ghost Light explores the notion of the metaphorical “ghosts” of our environment. These ghosts* are present everywhere: in the radiation of a nuclear disaster, in every pebble on the ground, as well as in the fossil fuel that keeps the ghost light in the middle of an empty theatre stage on. The ghosts remind us that the past is still present—and it should not be forgotten.
Awareness of “ghosts” also questions the notion of human exceptionality in relation to other beings and organisms, revealing their interconnectedness. It is time for the human species to coalesce around stories of the more-than-human.
“Ghost Light” urges to pause, observe, and listen to what the “ghosts” of our environment have to tell us. The text of the installation has been gathered from the archives of the multinational five-year research project, SENSOTRA (Sensory Transformations and Transgenerational Environmental Relationships in Europe 1950-2020). The research has recorded sensobiographic walking interviews, in which people of different generations reflect on the changes of their living environments in the past decades. In Ghost Light, the light in the middle of the stage is undulating to the sounds of the fragments of these accounts.
*The anthology Arts Of Living On A Damaged Planet (Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, Nils Bubandt, 2017) calls on a large number of eminent humanists and scientists to revitalize curiosity, observation, and transdisciplinary conversation about life on earth. The notion of “ghosts” is used as a foundation for interdisciplinary discourse.
Inkeri Aula is a cultural anthropologist who studies changing environmental relationships and shared sensory experiences across generations. Aula’s diverse research themes include translocal communality, sensory relationships with the environment, social imagination, Brazilian research, and multisensory ethnography. Currently, she conducts postdoctoral research about creativity and healthy ageing in Aalto University.
Mark Niskanen and Jani-Matti Salo create multidisciplinary installations that weave together everyday phenomena and various technologies. The duo’s work delves into the world of the senses, human interactions, memories, experiences of solitude and togetherness, and their associations with global themes. Evolving, the works often take the form of site-responsive, ephemeral situations. Niskanen and Salo are fascinated by framing existing environmental structures into works of art and sharing their authorship with the non-human.
Directors: Mark Niskanen, Jani-Matti Salo, Inkeri Aula
Writers: Mark Niskanen, Jani-Matti Salo, Inkeri Aula
Producers: Mark Niskanen, Jani-Matti Salo
Videographer: Eliel Kilkki
Voice actor: Noora Dadu