Every night for several weeks in autumn 2016, a warm glow lit the windows of hundreds of usually dark, vacant homes across Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, New York. For a short period, these empty spaces gained new life—or, at least, the feeling of life. By illuminating dark properties, Breathing Lights sought to spark discussion on the reclamation, renovation, and revitalization of abandoned buildings.

From 6 to 10 pm, the windows in these buildings—which represented fewer than 10 percent of the vacant structures across the region—shone in a pulsing rhythm that mimicked human breathing. LED light strips controlled by simple software created the effect. Several months of public programs supported the installation, highlighting issues affecting children and adults living in neighborhoods with many vacant homes, as well as offering resources for the renovation of vacant houses.

The project, developed by artist Adam Frelin and architect Barbara Nelson, both of Troy, and supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge initiative, ended in late November 2016 with the slow fading of the light in each window as the batteries in the light fixtures ran out. The fadeout was meant to evoke a sense of loss that might inspire action.

Jen Dolen is a photographer and is on the editorial team for Public Art Review.

From Public Art Review #56.