Encounters with the Urban Night organized by Visual Research Network and Estonian National Museum

Estonian National Museum, Tartu, Estonia

June 18-19, 2022  

Panel: Writing the night

Elena Adasheva. A Night on the Town: Walking with Light in the Far North

Abstract: The northern environment challenges common imaginaries of the day as bright and the night as dark. In the Far North, a day/night change does not signify a regular drastic alteration from light to dark. In a small town above the Arctic Circle, life depends on seasonal rhythms. In winter, the dark hours are long. We spend a lot of time indoors and rarely leave illuminated urban space. The first sun comes out in January, gradually changing the town’s life. In April, the long hours of radiant sunlight shorten the night, preventing us from sleeping long. Despite the temperatures remaining low (-17°C to -25°C), we walk and drive to tundra and sea frequently while the workings of streetlights noticeably decrease. Experiencing light conditions in the North led me to questions about human relations to the place we inhabit, both the town and surrounding landscape, and the ways in which light and dark shape these relations. To explore these questions, I develop a practice of experiencing space by intentionally focusing on light and dark and recording these experiences, either simultaneously or retrospectively. This practice draws from multidisciplinary literature on phenomenology, sensory ethnography, ethnographic writing, and artmaking. For this paper, I inquire what the northern night is, and how light conditions in the North affect human experiences of urban space at night. I walk around town, intentionally experiencing the nighttime atmosphere through light and dark, including street illumination. I notate my sensations with images and writing, concurrently probing the (im)possibilities of ethnographic description. This work is an experiment in sensory research, walking methodologies, and ethnographic writing that offers an exploratory approach to the human-environment relations in the North.  

Publication: Conference programme and abstracts