One of my favourite things about working with light-based art is its endless capacity to surprise and delight people from all walks of life. Light transcends language barriers, appeals to all ages, and doesn’t require a degree in art history to appreciate its beauty, or how innovatively it can be used.
As programme producer for Quays Culture, I’ve helped bring several high profile light-based artworks to Salford Quays / MediaCityUK in the North of England since 2012. In that time I have seen first hand the impact of light-based art when it is placed in public spaces, and it never ceases to impress me how the artists respond to the location. The artists we work with are some of the best in he world, and they understand that the public’s interaction shapes these artworks just as much as the artworks shaping the public spaces.
I see people who are going about their daily business, commuting to and from work and running errands, stop to gaze in wonder. Curious to find out more, they venture a little closer and – if the artwork invites people to interact, as many of ours do – start to play. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from: everyone experiences the same joy of discovery.
Participation and play is integral to the work that we do. Last year, we commissioned our first ever light-based artwork for Salford Quays. We started by enlisting artist collective Squidsoup to build a 12m x 11m grid of 12,000 LED lights that audiences can walk through, drawing on their seven years’ experience working with 3D arrays.
For many people, submerging yourself in an immersive pool of light like this would have been an extraordinary experience on its own, but we wanted to add an extra element of interaction. For inspiration, we looked to the location’s blustery weather in the winter months. By adding laser scanners and weather monitoring stations to the installation, the movement of people and gusts of wind triggered colour changes in the LEDs, sending colourful ripples through each individual light-source. The wind’s role in this piece is why we named it Aeolian Light: in homage to Aeolus, keeper of the winds in classical Greek mythology.
Located on the plaza between a busy shopping centre and one of the largest theatres in the UK (The Lowry), over half a million people immersed themselves in a world of light and motion. It was a big hit with the press too, featuring in national press and TV, including The Guardian (Photo of the Day), The Times (Critic’s Choice) and BBC Evening News. It even became a finalist of The Lumen Prize 2015.
This year, we’re inviting audiences to wonder at light and motion again through another brand new commission. US-based Danish artist, Mads Christensen has been making deeply reflective and contemplative light-based artworks in his Los Angeles studio for several years, exploring the subtle effects of light on emotion. His art encourages the public to gather and pool around the beating heart of his light works, which are as at home in the arid plains of Burning Man Festival as in cool, clean gallery environments. This December, they will come to Salford Quays for the first time.
Mads has been commissioned to create Cathedral of Mirrors, an installation of twelve 12ft reflective columns. During the day, the viewer sees themselves as they walk amongst the towering structures but at night, their reflection disappears as the columns emit pulses of coloured light in response to their movements. Waving a hand in front of one tower will send a shockwave of molten red or arctic blue out of it and through the others. The more people who gather round, the wilder the display will be.
These two commissions build on my previous experiences of programming existing technology-based artworks from international artists. Over the years, Quays Culture have played host to large-scale works such as NVA’s Speed Of Light – Salford in 2013, where groups of local runners donned customised LED light-suits and illuminated the spaces around The Quays, and Craig Morrison’s Thank You in 2014, which saw high-powered laser beams project the titular words into the night sky, in tribute to the pioneering computer scientist, Alan Turing.
All of these artworks share a common exploration of technology and beauty, combining the two elements in large-scale art free to the public. Being able to commission new art and present this alongside existing artworks is fantastic. In a significant way we are contributing to the production and enjoyment of contemporary art works that connect to the public. It is important to us that the public enjoy these strange and visually captivating artworks, and we are proud to be enabling artists to produce and present their world-class art here at the future city of Salford Quays.
The value of these community and creative experiences is recognised by the public and private partnership that form the MediaCity Quays Partnership which set up and has been a constant supporter of our programme since 2012. With people visiting our events from home and abroad, the flow of visiting stories, ideas, histories and currencies makes our neighbourhood a more vibrant, stimulating place to live. We aim to add to the on-going story of Salford as a vibrant, creative and global city. The digital light artworks are a visual beacon that reflects our ambition as a centre for ideas and inspiration.
Lucy Dusgate, as Quays Culture Programme Producer, devises and implements a vision of creativity focusing on digital innovation in real-world and online performances, drawing on experience as Digital & Creative Economy manager for Arts Council England, artistic director of Lumen Arts, deputy director of Lime Arts Ltd, manager at Community Arts Northwest and more. Lucy’s interests lie in creative content production, and expanding learning to online and broadcast audiences. She’s partial to artists’ film & media, digital art, film, visual art, and mass-participation & site specific events. Lucy also works as Digital Art Programmer at The Lowry.