Nana Petzet, Bernd Reuter
Background and Concept
“Humans have always striven for light – the light bulb has made them the ruler over day and night.” (Laura Weissmüller, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2014). The UNESCO had declared the year 2015 as the International Year of Light with the aim of “acknowledging the key role that light plays in science and culture”. However, a critical reflection on the adverse consequences of artificial lighting merely played a minor role in the UNESCO programme. That the night needs to be protected, to a certain extent, against the excessive use of artificial light sources in industrialized countries, was not addressed. And this despite the fact that relevant publications such as “Protection of the Night – Light Pollution, Biodiversity and Nocturnal Landscape”, released by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in 2013, have called for an altered awareness in the evaluation of light emission.
It was this largely neglected environmental problem of light pollution that was at the centre of our considerations, when Bernd Reuter and I met in Duvenstedt at his Peregrine Falcon Breeding and Research Station in the spring of 2014 to develop a project on art, ecology and environmental protection for Hamburg’s public space. Another theme-related inspiration was a description in the above publication of the phenomenon of behavioural change in animals effected by artificial illumination: “In studies for measuring the flight activity of insects near light sources, around thirteen to sixteen insect orders were counted. (…) Moths gather at the light sources in large numbers, but also other insects head for the light in masses, especially those that swarm only on a few days in summer. This can be clearly observed with dayflies, drifting above rivers in huge, cloud-like swarms, gathering near light sources on bridges and by the shores, flying around until, finally, they die beneath the luminaires. (…) Such behaviour of insects near light sources – beginning with a magical attraction and ending with the death of the animals – is called the “vacuum-cleaner effect”. Gerhard Eisenbeis, 2013)