There are very few places where the darkness extends, uninterrupted, many miles into the distance. Light glow, a frosty haze above our heavily lit and heavily mediated cities, extends like a dampening blanket between our metropolitan areas and the stars – one unfortunate side-effect of poorly planned lighting infrastructure (see: The End of Night by Paul Bogard). We went to the Yukon to re-discover the deep dark. Physically, we wanted to feel the effects of a quickly shortening day – the S.A.D., the prolonged clinging to blankets each morning, the increased cold. We wanted to better understand the impact of long nights and darkness on the human psyche on a day-to-day basis, especially when localized in a small (but progressive) town.
Do people grow accustomed to living in dark places? How does darkness affect mood? In Dawson City, the natural dark is inescapable, felt keenly (though differently) by all.
During the brief month we spent in Dawson City, we interviewed a variety of residents – students, teachers, artists, thinkers, and new friends – about their experience with darkness & prolonged night. Participants ranged from “first winter” students, beginning to feel the affects of the deep dark, to 10+ year Dawson City residents who had “weathered the storm” many seasons before.
To be frank, it seems likely that there are few accidental Dawson City residents. The town itself is small – ranging from just over 1000 residents (in the winter) to about 5000 in the summer (mostly coming with the midnight sun to participate in the tourist industry). The people who remain through all four seasons – ie. sourdoughs – either fell in love with the community of Dawson City, are invested deeply in the north, or arrived in search of adventure and got stuck sans dollars to return to southern climes. While there are exceptions of course, it’s fair to say that for many Dawsonites, living in a former city of Gold Rush ghosts is a choice. And, in this respect, so too is the darkness.
Could it be that Dawson is a town choosing to live in the extreme light + extreme dark? Or, perhaps more accurately, have Dawsonites learned to see the gradations of natural light differently – even when the only light around them is the ancient glow of stars or flickering curtains of northern lights?
Through our interviews and many conversations, one idea kept resurfacing: night is not the same as darkness. For many longtime residents, the dark of Dawson in the winter simply is not that dark, especially if you’re outside witnessing the transition in the sky from dusk, to long blue, to infinite sheet of stars. Whether this is a display of characteristic heartiness, or a simple testament to the adaptability of the human body, we became interested in the idea of darkness being lessened by total submersion – and the opposing thought that man-made separation from our surrounding environment actually makes the darkness darker. Do our shelters create shells disconnecting us from the subtlety of the world around us?
Night Blind explores these thoughts, using the bones of a quintessential a-frame house to illustrate a simple phenomenon we’ve all experienced: when you are inside a lit space, looking out into the night, the darkness is much darker, much blanker, much deeper, than when you are outside, submerged in that environment and participating in the nuanced night-time world. Does this contrast relegate and segregate us? Are we polarizing our understandings of the places in which we live, blinding ourselves to the natural spaces around us? Or are our cozy, separated interiors a necessary response to the surrounding dark & cold? Speaking to isolation and insulation, exterior and interior, environmental and manufactured, Night Blind does not condemn the light nor the darkness, but highlights the affects of one extreme on the other.
Our personal explorations of the deep dark are far from done, but Dawson City shed light on our understanding of night. Many thanks to Klondike Institute of Art & Culture, all the interview participants, and our new pals for their openness & generosity.