The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn (2006)

The lamps in this photograph were lent to the artists, Owen Mundy and Joelle Dietrick, by the residents of Sumter County, Alabama, during May 2006 and were installed in an old grocery store in the center of the city of York using left-over FEMA water boxes and inexpensive wall timers. Each lamp was set to turn-on every night, and because of the inexactitude of the timers, did so in an organic fashion, one by one, referencing not only the participants in the community, but the history of social movements in the State of Alabama.

The space, formerly the York Real Value grocery store, was abandoned and had been used the previous winter to stage FEMA water for hurricane victims. Much of the water was unusable due to mishandling and with the help of community volunteers, city employees, and Coleman Center staff, the artists cleaned the damaged water containers and debris ...

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The lamps in this photograph were lent to the artists, Owen Mundy and Joelle Dietrick, by the residents of Sumter County, Alabama, during May 2006 and were installed in an old grocery store in the center of the city of York using left-over FEMA water boxes and inexpensive wall timers. Each lamp was set to turn-on every night, and because of the inexactitude of the timers, did so in an organic fashion, one by one, referencing not only the participants in the community, but the history of social movements in the State of Alabama.

The space, formerly the York Real Value grocery store, was abandoned and had been used the previous winter to stage FEMA water for hurricane victims. Much of the water was unusable due to mishandling and with the help of community volunteers, city employees, and Coleman Center staff, the artists cleaned the damaged water containers and debris out, preparing the space for the installation. During the two weeks the space was being cleaned the artists asked community members to lend them a lamp from their home which they then installed in the vacant retail space.

The artists installed the lamps using non-damaged FEMA water boxes found in the space. Each day around dusk the lamps turn on one by one, representing the participants in the project, as well as the possibility that collective action can impact our communities in positive and lasting ways. Reminiscent of candles at a memorial service, the lamps fade in and out, pulsing at their own pace, human in the imperfections and variety, and more powerful as a collection. Participants received a handmade lamp from the artists in thanks for the use of their personal lamp.

Many believe that tap water in Sumter County is not safe to drink. In 1978, Chemical Waste Management, a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc, established a large hazardous waste landfill in Sumter County. Since it was established, the company has dumped millions of tons of hazardous waste on what was once lush farmland, creating the largest hazardous waste landfill in the United States. This landfill has been notorious for leaks, spills, PCB violations, and off-site water contamination.(1)

This project was completed during a residency at The Coleman Center for Arts and Culture in York, AL, in 2006.

  1. Davidson, Curt. "Emelle, Alabama: Home Of The Nation's Largest Hazardous Waste Landfill." 2000. http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/emelle.htm
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