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Our Disappearing Darkness and Recreating True Night

#esiStateOfTheArt talk by Fulbright Scholar 2021/ 2022 : MJ Sharp

This event is being organised by the Environment and Sustainability Institute in collaboration with the Global teams from the College of Humanities and the College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Event details


A vanishingly small percentage of our evolutionary time as human beings has been spent in artificial light. For a large percentage of the world’s population, the experience of night is quickly becoming a boutique and privileged one. When we are robbed of night—from seeing the night sky that fueled the world’s mythologies to experiencing our own creaturely human adaptation to the dark— what are we missing?

Archeological evidence from some prehistoric megaliths in Cornwall suggests that people were visiting these sites in liminal light or at night. Could an artistic recreation of that experience help us better understand what we’re missing when we live our lives awash in light pollution—light pollution that isn’t even limited to earth at this point, but includes a truly staggering number of satellites already in orbit or slated to be in orbit in the unregulated space above earth.

Cornwall is remarkable both for its concentration of prehistoric sites and for its dark skies. Two of the seven designated Dark Sky Parks in the UK are in Cornwall—West Penwith recently joined Bodmin Moor with that status.  I’m in Cornwall on a 2021/2022 Fulbright Scholar Award to explore our loss of darkness with Professor Kevin Gaston of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. The Environment and Sustainability Institute had the collaboration of artists and scientists in its very founding in the form of the Creative Exchange Programme, led by Professor Caitlin DeSilvey.

I will be talking about my artistic journey to recreate prehistoric darkness—from the germ of the idea to its current state, which has been immeasurably deepened by the input and insights of many generous artists, researchers, and scholars.


MJ Sharp is a documentary and fine arts photographer who is visiting the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, Penryn, on a Fulbright Scholar Award for the academic year 2021/2022. Her past documentary work has included freelancing regionally for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, PBS’s Frontline, the Columbia Journalism Review, and the Ford Foundation, among others. Her fine art photographs appear in the collections of the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Akron Museum of Art, the Nasher Museum of Art, the Ackland Museum of Art, and the Asheville Museum of Art, as well as private collections such as the the Keohane-Kenan Permanent Collection at Duke and the Cassilhaus Collection in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is presently a Lecturing Fellow at Duke University and has served on the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Nasher Museum and as Vice President of the Duke Faculty Union.

MJ Sharp

MJ Sharp