On any given day, students at Gallaudet University — a Washington D.C.-based school dedicated to the education of Deaf and hard of hearing students — will be around the campus having conversations in American Sign Language (ASL). And, as university professor Benjamin Bahan notes, these students also like to sign after the sun goes down.
“For hearing people, if the light is dimmed, it simply means that you can’t see,” Bahan says in a talk at TEDxGallaudet. “But for Deaf individuals, it means that we can’t see, but also [that we aren't] able to communicate. So for Deaf people, the absence of light is the absence of communication.”
While teaching on campus, Bahan noticed that a lot of popular spaces were not sufficiently lit for conversation at night, he says, “and the places that were lit up were too lit up.” He talked with his students and together they began to draft ways to light up the campus in entirely new ways.
“We found that Gallaudet wasn’t pretty [at night] and it wasn’t suitable for [subtle syntax in ASL],” he says. “So we all decided to gather one evening and bring flashlights and colored gels and find places that we wanted to illuminate.”
Before their “guerilla lighting,” the Gallaudet auditorium looked like this in the evening:
After Bahan’s students in The Motion Light Lab created a lighting plan using just flashlights and gels, it looked like this:
“We transformed that space,” Bahan says. “Not only did we transform that space, but the light brought texture to the walls that it illuminated. I could almost feel what I saw. It brought new meaning to that space to me.”
Bahan’s class then began to play with lighting — creating small installations mixing light and shadow — one, a set of moving hands to celebrate ASL and Deaf culture:
“Light needs to resonate with Gallaudet,” Bahan says. “Light needs to be a value … If I were able to describe where a building is by saying it is illuminated by a green gel or a red gel, imagine how people would be able to find their way around campus with ease … And as a communication tool, we need to illuminate spaces on Gallaudet strategically.”
To learn more, watch Bahan’s whole talk below: