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Light Into Dark

“Urban Light,” by Chris Burden, is composed of 202 antique L.A. County street lamps that stand outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The lamp poles are grouped regimentally in rows. Painted an identical neutral gray, they blend with the concrete sidewalk on which they stand. In the daylight, the work seems dormant.

But when darkness falls, 202 lights glow. The sculpture becomes a place. Children run among the poles, chased by their friends or parents, laughing as if on a playground. Friends and lovers photograph one another among the lamps. “Urban Light” becomes an experience of art. Its light expands into night and puts darkness in retreat.

Light fascinates us, especially at night and especially during the Christmas season. Here in Westchester, an array of dazzling decorations takes one’s breath away. Even more remarkable than the uncountable light bulbs in use is the collaboration of neighbors. Some displays process from home to home to home and bridge opposite sides of the street.

One of Los Angeles’ great holiday traditions is Olvera Street’s Las Posadas. During nine Advent evenings, a candlelight procession that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s nighttime search for shelter in Bethlehem takes place at the birthplace of Los Angeles. The nightly journey ends at La Placita Church. Las Posadas explodes light into the Olvera Street community. (This year’s event takes place Dec. 16–24, and more details can be found at www.olvera-street.com).

On campus, the lights of the holiday seem more muted. One pictures immediately the face of Sacred Heart Chapel: a large, lush wreath, dotted with a restrained handful of lights. Yet, that image endures in the minds of countless alumni and visitors to Loyola Marymount University. Some 2,000 years ago, the light that shone into the night must have seemed a small one with only a few people to see it — that light that the darkness did not overcome.

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch is editor LMU Magazine. He is also host of “Off Press,” the podcast of LMU Magazine. You can find other writings of his at his Editor’s Blog. Follow him on Twitter @jwlmageditor.