Skip to Main Content

Light and Dark

On a dark and windy night, ghostly shapes float down the high street. Glowing with an otherworldly golden light, a large tree passes by, followed by a giant dragonfly flapping it's wings to the rhythms of a samba band. There are moons, stars, a space rocket, flowers, fish and even an enormous crawling baby. This is the yearly event of Gwyl y Golau or the Festival of Light. Just as the days are getting shorter, the weather colder and wetter, the Machynlleth community celebrates some of those good things that will help us through yet another long, dark winter: creativity, fun, community and above all, light.

lanterns and sparks

Machynlleth is a small market town in Mid Wales, home to Transition Bro Ddyfi Trawsnewydd and for more than ten years now the community has been coming together around Halloween to watch or take part in the lantern parade. For weeks beforehand young and old have been creating willow and paper lanterns with the help of the people from Articulture and volunteers during workshops open and free to the community.

people in lantern making workshop

From a child’s modest triangular creation to the fabulously large constructions with moving parts needing half a dozen enthusiasts to carry it, they all have the same capacity to amaze and move those who come to watch. Most years there is a theme to work to; this year it was “Celebrating Winter” and “Nos Galan Gaeaf”, but one year it was “Belonging”, a difficult topic in these and other parts of the UK, as Catriona Ross, myself and Charlotte Du Cann have explored in previous posts. Community based art projects offer a gentle and playful way to explore issues that could, in another context, quickly become confrontational or simply boring. One of the best examples of such a project is Transition Town Tooting's Trashcatchers Carnival, where within the frame of a community celebration, issues of waste, sustainability and community cohesion can be looked at in a creative and non threatening manner. All of a sudden engaging with “issues” is no longer dull, but exquisite fun!

paper lanterns

“Art doesn't tell you what to think”, says Julie Ann Heskin of Articulture, “It allows you to have an opinion and appreciate that others will feel differently about the same thing, but mostly, it makes you feel great!”

Art is being used successfully all over the world to help children overcome the trauma's of war, natural disasters and other crises, with theatre and circus or simple paintings. But also as a tool to bring across history's lessons to the next generations, it should not be underestimated. I never really grasped the full horror of the holocaust until I visited the children's memorial at the Yad Vashem museum in Israel where some of the pictures of the 1.5 million children that died are displayed while a recording is played, simply stating their names and the countries they were from. It's not an experience I will ever forget.

Yad Vashem children's memorial

So how does art work? Wherein lies it's power? I'm sure there are many books and other learned academic works on this, but as an artisan myself, I know that both in the making and the experiencing of art, a subtle shift, a bit of magic happens. We open up, we soften a little, we touch, feel ,listen, taste and see. A single piece of artwork can evoke a complex response; like or dislike, awe or in some cases even horror, but it rarely leaves us cold. It is not something only artists can do, anything anybody does to a certain degree of mastery like cooking or gardening or even knitting can be considered art. I would encourage all of you to add this extra dimension to your events, from timeline cakes to beautifully decorated pot luck tables at gatherings, go for the "wow"-factor, it will stick in people's memories. I still remember the underwater scenes and the hover boards when at a Seed Savers event we invited kids to draw their vision of our future. It was great fun both for the watchers and the doers and in dark times we need all the levity and light that a bit of art can bring.

There is always hope by Banksy

Video link


Jo Homan's picture

Wow that first photo of the

Wow that first photo of the procession looks amazing. I think there's something a bit primal about carrying light through the dark that makes it kind of satisfying, but you don't really know why.

Charlotte Du Cann's picture

the wow factor

I had the same response to that pic Jo! Just lovely. I adore lantern processions and nighttime revels.

This week some of us from Transition Norwich and Sustainable Bungay went with Occupy Norwich up to the Castle to commenorate Robert Kett and his rebellion in 1549. Someone lit flambards as we stood and listened to this ace historian talking about the commonwealth and the people's struggle for fairness and liberty in the face of a "hard hearted" elite.

Something happens at night outside when you meet that doesn't happen in the day inside or with electricity. All those experiential right-hemisphere things you write about here Ann regarding art and connecting with the time-lines. At the Uncivilisation Festival this year all the great art events - music, storytelling, performances - happened in the dark, in the woods, by candelight and firelight.

Great piece. No Transition without the wow!


Ann Owen's picture

Outside lights

 Outside fires and flames are very special, I agree, but especially in winter. I'm looking forward to the solstice now, got three celebrations to go to this year, including one at the top of the valley at Blaeneinion, and there's sure to be bonfires, hot mulled wine and marshmallows at all of them. After the solstice, I always feel that we're properly in winter then; time to sit by the hot stove and mull over the seed catalogues. And if there's snow and/or a lot of wind then we're likely to do all that by candelight, as we'll probably loose (electrical) power. Lovely time of year, but only thanks to fire!