THE PLAY OF LIGHT: A Brief Anecdotal History

In conjunction with The Museum of Neon Art, Los Angeles / 2004

The Museum of Neon Art offered LATDA a window on the world —Olympic Boulevard, that is— and footage inside their lobby to curate a display about toys that use light as a feature. This simple idea became LATDA's first foray into exhibiting and collaborating with other institutions. It was a tiny showing, but perhaps the most magical.

What is it about playing in the semi-dark? Why do most children and adults love it so? We’ll sit long hours in gloomy theaters, hoping for momentary transcendence (or at least a good scare). We’ll smuggle our Buck Rogers flashlight under the covers and survey hard won contraband in our secret cozy tent. Or we’ll poke little clear stars into a matrix of velvet black, anticipating the ‘wow’ moment. We’ll play with spirited abandon – shrieking, sweating and stumbling – bathed in the magic blue glow of twilight. What IS it about playing in the semi-dark?

As a species we love the drama of the half-lit world where reality recedes and magic happens. In the secular world, the business of creating magic belongs to the artist. Plato famously used glows and shadow imagery as metaphors for perception. Who doesn’t love the candlelit images of Caravaggio, the starry nights of Van Gogh, the falling embers of Whistler, or a dramatically lit window on Fifth Avenue? Every artist must be part magician, then, and part alchemist... and we suspect that some artists were influenced in part by their childhood toys.