Fighting those Winter Blues

The dark, dreary weather at this time of year casts a shadow over even the most upbeat of Londoners. The shortest day of the year is upon us, with Winter Solstice bringing less than 8 hours of daylight. And with the characteristic haze of grey clouds and drizzle for which England is notoriously known, it is quite difficult to resist the urge to lazily sleep the days away in the comfort of your home.

But artist James Yamada is fighting back against the winter blues. His installation, The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, is the first in the aptly titled Parasolstice – Winter Light, a series of outdoor projects in the back garden of London institution Parasol unit, which aim to address the phenomenon of light.

James Yamada: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, 2011, Parasol unit installation view. Photograph by Stephen White.

Yamada’s constructed shelter invites you to sit under it, and bask in its full spectrum light – the same wavelengths used to clinically treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The work gives off an otherworldly blue glow reminiscent of the Turrell bubble that descended upon London last winter, but the work of this James has a completely different intention – to restore a sense of normality and functionality to the user, rather than immerse them into anarchic alternate universe. While also a case of science and art joining forces, this installation is far more innocuous than the Turrell, and admittedly, not quite as much fun.

Yamada’s shelter foregrounds it artificiality with aluminium beams, synthetic white tree trunks and bare lighting tubes. Not trying to mimic the sun and the qualities of nature, but instead synthetically replace it, the structure offers a low-tech alternative to artificially readjust struggling biological clocks.

While sitting outside under the aggressively garish light, the day, and everything around, did seem to brighten a bit, although it was likely more psychology than biology – a combination of the placebo effect, the sheer enjoyment of the way the blue light reflects off the skin, and the result of actually sitting down and taking a calm twenty minutes to enjoy the outdoors, both the simulated and organic surroundings.

I am not sure about the long-term beneficial effects of Yamada’s installation, and if sitting under it on a regular basis really would make a difference, but it did enliven my day. Thankfully, today marks the turning point however – the days will only get a bit longer, and the sun a bit brighter. And in the meantime, we will always have art to lift our spirits – both the light therapeutic and the just otherwise engaging and inspirational.