Lamp, After UNDP Human Devel­op­ment Index, With Knot



In the West, light bulbs are iconic sym­bols of illu­mi­na­tion. They also sym­bol­ize ideas, knowl­edge, enlight­en­ment, mod­ern progress, and the eureka! moment. They evoke our desire for inno­v­a­tive thought in con­struc­tively re-imagining con­tem­po­rary life. Edison’s inven­tion, may have dif­fer­ent con­no­ta­tions in parts of the world that face min­i­mal skills of read­ing and writ­ing and lack of access to pub­lic sys­tems of knowl­edge. The 2005 United Nations Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme Report on global lit­er­acy rates the nations of the world in a list of ‘most’ to ‘least’ lit­er­ate. Using this list, Mark Soo began the devel­op­ment of his Lamp with the imprac­ti­ca­ble task of con­tact­ing the nations at the bot­tom, in an attempt to source, ship and dis­play a light bulb orig­i­nat­ing there. Fash­ioned into a read­ing light, the process of its acqui­si­tion reflects the many com­plex polit­i­cal, eco­nomic and social forces played out over both local and global spheres. As the library user pulls up a chair to study within the cir­cle of light, we are made aware of those that can­not, (or those who read by can­dle­light, lack­ing access to elec­tric­ity) and pon­der a global econ­omy that can dis­trib­ute a stan­dard prod­uct around the world but fails to achieve sim­i­lar access to writ­ten knowledge.

The Library’s com­mit­ment to free access to infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge for all lev­els in the com­mu­nity is a tes­ta­ment to our society’s many free­doms and civil lib­er­ties, many of which we have come to accept as cor­ner­stones of our social fab­ric. By invert­ing the logic of the ‘most-to-least’ index of the UNDP report, Soo’s work both hon­ours the civic achieve­ments of the library itself, and draws atten­tion to the his­to­ries of col­o­niza­tion, empire and indus­try that have made these very achieve­ments pos­si­ble. Faced with the famil­iar, frag­ile light bulb, and an under­stand­ing of its ori­gins, to sit within its glow is no longer a sim­ple act, and its sym­bolic func­tion becomes com­pli­cated by the con­tin­gent cir­cum­stances of its use around the world.

Photo: Scott Massey. Group Search was made pos­si­ble through the invalu­able con­tri­bu­tions of The Canada Coun­cil for the Arts, the BC Arts Coun­cil, the Spirit of BC Arts Fund, the Van­cou­ver Foun­da­tion, Emily Carr Insti­tute of Art and Design and Gen­er­a­tion Printing.