Most of the time, the goal of environmentalism is to protect what’s already there. Sometimes our efforts to stop expansionism and pollution are too late, and we lose a tiny but important piece of the world. When that happens, environmentalism takes on a new goal — to recreate what was lost and to remind the public of the dangers of wastefulness.
Two different cities on opposite sides of the world both used floating LED lights to recapture a lost memory of the past, but they each did it for entirely different reasons. These two glowing aquatic art pieces are reminiscent of a sad movie: beautiful, haunting, and nostalgic.
Reigniting the Stars
It all started with a single thought. Artist John Morris looked up at the New York sky one night and wondered, “Where are all the stars?” Well, the stars are still up there, but the dim, flickering light they emit is constantly choked out by New York City’s light pollution and air pollution. What New Yorkers are left with is a dull, featureless black sky.
Morris wanted to bring New Yorkers back to their astronomical roots by replicating the night sky against the surface of the Hudson River. So, he and his New York-based art collective, the Windmill Factory, spent two years developing an intricate system of LED lights. They attached the lights to 217 neglected, decaying posts off of Pier 49 along the Hudson River, revitalizing the forgotten piece of the city with softly-glowing blue lights.
And when I say that these lights replicate the night sky, I’m not kidding. A control panel on a nearby pier allows passers-by to activate certain constellations. Do you miss the sight of Ursa Major or Cassiopeia? Just hit the button and the correct configuration of lights will illuminate the Hudson River.
Reviving Lost Fireflies with LED Lights
Fireflies used to be a common site along the Sumida River, which flows through Tokyo. River and air pollution have scared them off, so Tokyo citizens can no longer enjoy that piece of local history.
The floating orbs ran entirely on solar energy and they were caught by a huge net at the end of their meaningful, aquatic journey, so they didn’t contribute to the pollution that originally scared away Tokyo’s beloved fireflies.
I love this art piece and I wish I could have seen it in person, but the display is as gorgeous as it is depressing. It’s impossible to appreciate the breath-taking beauty of the scene without being reminded that Tokyo citizens could have enjoyed flickering motes of light like this every single night if not for pollution. It makes you wonder: are the fireflies gone for good, or can Tokyo ever win them back?