John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Radioactive Man would be happy to mow this luminous turf, an artistic statement against light pollution.
Did someone spill a load of nuclear waste on the streets of Madrid?
It sure looks that way, what with these fields of luminous grass sprouting all over the place. Glowing little meadows, each composed of hundreds and hundreds of jade stalks, appeared in late March in three downtown locations. With their ectoplasmic auras, these are lawns that Radioactive Man would love to mow.
If you're thinking that the guerrilla installations are similar to those recent, luminescent blue "fountains" in Madrid, you'd be on to something. The artificial turf is the work of light-obsessed street-art collective Luz Interruptus, who created those shimmering fountains to protest broken public plumbing and also put shining nipples on the city's statues. This time around, the artists wanted to make a statement about light pollution. Like many major cities, Madrid throws off a godly amount of lumens – so much so that astronauts aboard the International Space Station can see its cities painted in fire on the earth's surface:
(Photo courtesy of NASA. The lowermost bright patch is Lisbon, to the right is Seville and in the center is Madrid.)
In general, Luz Interruptus is annoyed at the constant glare that obscures all but the brightest stars in the night sky. In particular, the group dislikes the green-neon cross signs that pharmacies use to mark their presence. A couple years back, the Madrid city council passed regulations that allowed pharmacies to use much brighter signs. Here's what Luz has to say about that:
So much light emanates from the new crosses that the environment that surrounds each pharmacy, is permanently tinted a deep, vibrant and unnatural green color. Objectively speaking, one could say that the majority of the urban green spaces in our city, are more the result of erroneous illuminated sign rules than the commitment of our institutions to provide the city with places where you can be in contact with nature.
In addition to the obvious color change of the streets, the neighbors who live in the vicinity of 24 hour pharmacies, have watched impotently as every night their rooms become disturbing green places, in which life and the perception of what happens in them is altered, without being able to do anything to avoid it.
In a flight of fancy, the artists wondered if this constant source of artificial light was potent enough to power photosynthesis. If so, they reasoned, the resulting verdure would be a very special kind of species. Thus the birth of Hierbas de Botica ("Pharmacy Herbs"), also called "Mutant Weeds." The fulgurating fields represent the pasture of the future, glowing like Three Mile Island circa 1979 on a diet of neverending neon.
Luz constructed the weed patches with the kind of fluorescent nightsticks that kids like to break open and smear on themselves for Halloween. The project enjoyed a brief half-life in March before the artists took it down so it wouldn't be construed as litter or, more importantly, as another form of light pollution. But photos and a video of these weird gardens survive. Have a gander below (many more photos are posted on the artists' website).