LUMIÈRE MATIÈRE. International conference in Lille, Padua and Venice

Gruppo Nanou,
Gruppo Nanou, We want miles in a silent way Photo©Daniele Casadio

After a long period of sporadic occurrences, research on the themes of stage lighting seems to have acquired a place of its own over the past few years, even within the panorama of academic studies. Certainly the object of interest of artists and creatives, the field of scenic lighting has struggled more than other performing arts territories to gain the attention of historical and aesthetic reflections, not uncoupled today from the awareness of the necessary dialogue with the more technical side and with the solidity of the scenic praxis. 

A sign of this changed panorama within the theatre industry is the research programme Lumière de Spectacle[1], launched by the University of Lille, which, in collaboration with the University of Padua, has started a work programme that is cautiously but solidly establishing an international network of researchers, artists, and lighting professionals.

France, Italy and Brazil are the most involved countries for now, as shown in the first convention of international studies conceived by the project Lumière Matière, held in two sessions: the first at the University of Lille, at the CEAC research laboratory (Centre d’Études des Arts Contemporains), on November 7th and 8th, 2019; the second from January 15th to 17th, 2020, between Padua and Venice, at the Paduan university and at Fondazione Cini[2].

International openness and the desire to combine academic contributions with testimonies from artists and light creators were at the basis of Lumière Matière’s conception. Especially on the French front, for several years now there has been a strong interest in the study of artistic practices, creation processes, and collaborations between artists, evermore present in the university environment, sometimes even as lecturers. In the ongoing collaborative projects, this pragmatic approach dialogues and confronts a tradition of studies more anchored in the history of theatre, present in France but more entrenched in Italy. From all this comes a multiplicity of approaches that move between theory and practice, between the lesson of history and the pulsating breath of contemporary practices. This dialogue seems necessary today, to give body to a fabric that intertwines university research and didactics with performative practices, whether they take place on the stages of theatres or in other venues inhabited by performances or installations. 

Although the project is dedicated in its very title (Lumière de Spectacle) to stage lighting, the aim of this first conference was to avoid general reflections and instead delimit its scientific perimeter, considering it as the first of a series of meetings. The theme that seemed to be the basis of any discourse on the subject was thus identified: light as matter, also in dialectical relation with its intangible status. The focus on the theatrical field did not preclude some speeches in dialogue with the specificity of the project, following the idea that reflection and research on stage lighting are nourished by contributions from other disciplines. In this way, both sessions were opened by a physicist: Bernard Maitte in Lille and Amedeo Maddalena in Padua, respectively on the undulatory and corpuscular nature of light and the antagonism between light and matter. Some speeches crossed into the territories of design, installation, photography, and cinema; among the speakers, teachers, PhD students and artists, who brought examples from all show genres (prose, opera, puppet theatre, performance, variety, music hall).

The proposals received following the diffusion of the Call for Papers launched in 2018 were carefully evaluated and selected by the Scientific Committee, which favoured very targeted proposals, some coming from “light” specialists, others from scholars who approached this territory for the first time – the purpose of the project is indeed to nurture and encourage studies in this field.

  • Fabrizio Crisafulli,
  • Gianni Staropoli,
  • Romina De Novellis

In accordance with its hybrid and innovative genesis, Lumière Matière saw interventions of various kinds: the lectures were complemented by a round table of créateurs lumière, shows (Éclairage public by Le Sycomore, the company led by Victor Inisan, PhD candidate in Lille and speaker at the conference; Kindertotenlieder, a revisitation of the Nō theatre, interpreted by Claude Jamain), performances (by Frédérique Lecerf, together with those narrated by Romina de Novellis), and a video projection of images taken from the works of the various participants at the conference or of those involved in the project (including Pasquale Mari, Christophe Forey, Fabrizio Crisafulli, Elsa Revol, Nadia Luciani, Gianni Staropoli, Jacques Audrain, Gruppo Nanou). In Venice, an installation by Pierangela Allegro, Perché il presente non basta, was set up in the “Duse room” of the Cini Foundation[3].

Wanting to synthesize the guidelines that emerged from all the papers, a particular attention went to the topics of perception and processes triggered in the viewer, fully in line with the tendencies that emerge in contemporary aesthetics. From the concepts of illusion and “trap” to the experimentation that incorporates research in chromatology (from James Turrell to Joël Pommerat to the Nanou Group); similar to these issues, that of time and space-time (from Bob Wilson to the performance of Romina De Novellis).

The historical and philological approach has examined pioneers of stage design as a “total” work of art: from Giuseppe Verdi’s directions for the Attila’s scenic effects at Teatro la Fenice, to Alfred Jarry’s attention to light, to the experimentation of the historical avant-garde with the synaesthesia of sound and light developed by Colour Music, all the way to the “tradition” of modernity represented by the work of Giorgio Strehler or Robert Wilson. A look at the past has raised important issues, such as colour and transparency (from Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut to Strehler’s dramaturgical light).

Lighting in the variety theatre, object of analysis in relation to the carnality of bodies, the conception of Alfred Jarry’s mask and that of Richard Teschner’s puppets have opened up the range of genres considered. 

However, other names popped up, such as D’Annunzio, Fortuny, Luigi Veronesi, Nanda Vigo, and the Polish actor Ziembinski in his work in Rio de Janeiro; in this regard, it is important to underline how the precious contribution of Brazilian researchers has completed the already wide-ranging spectrum of themes related to the history of European theatre, articulated in the research programme Lumière de Spectacle

Darkness has been treated as a matter of light, together with its on-stage dramaturgical implications. The interaction between scenography and light in the construction of the theatrical space is a further theme that has emerged in a transversal way from various contributions.

  • Songs from before
  • Otello, 2009
  • 2020 Budapest

If the attention to the technical side and equipment has been constant, never disjointed from the dramaturgical implications, this clearly emerged in a more analytical way in the papers focusing on contemporary issues. The topic of the new technologies for lighting – of great actuality, as shown by the study day held in June 2019 at the ENSATT in Lyon – raised the issue of the toxicity generated by LED lights, be it metaphorical or real. The contemporary creation field was the subject of the round table of light creators held in Lille, in which the themes and motifs proposed by the artists themselves during the two sessions of the conference were echoed.

The richness of these days of work, an opportunity for meeting and discussion of different projects, was made possible thanks to the synergy created around the scientific initiative of the Universities of Lille and Padua, together with the Institute for Theatre and Melodrama, which has been joined by a multiplicity of actors, including Ca’ Foscari University, the doctoral schools of the two universities, the Centre de Recherche des Arts Contemporains, the Hauts-de-France region, as well as the national association AIDI and the specialized magazines LUCE (for Italy) and Lightzoomlumière (for France)[4].

Pierangela Allegro,
Pierangela Allegro, Perché il presente non basta, installazione montaggio

What are the next steps of the project? As of now, a publication of the proceedings is under consideration. In the meantime, the speeches of the Lille session can be viewed on the website of the French University[5]. To consolidate the research and in the prospect of new collaborations, other conferences and interactions are foreseen, such as the one with the Perphoto project of the University of Lisbon, dedicated to stage photography, and the one, already underway, with the Dire Luce. Le parole e le cose che illuminano la scena project, promoted by the University of Padua itself[6].

Since its creation, the team of Lumière de Spectacle has also planned other conferences focused on specific aspects (light and architecture, light and music, for instance).

[2] The French session was organized by Véronique Perruchon and Antonio Palermo, the Italian session by Cristina Grazioli, assisted by the Institute for Theatre and Melodrama, directed by Maria Ida Biggi of Fondazione Cini, Venice
[4] and www.lightzoomlumiè
[5] The programs and abstracts from the two sessions are available on Lumière de Spectacle’s website

This article was originally published on LUCE n°331, 2020