Thursday, 9 October 2014

Leeds Transported into the Next Century: Light Night 2014

The Leeds Civic Hall on Light Night 2014
Light Night is a cultural event that takes place in Leeds every October. First launched in 2005 and based on the European model of Nuit Blanche, Light Night sees venues accross the city opening late into the night and inviting the public to experience free performances, installations and other unusual (often light-based) cultural events.

Last week, on the 3 October 2014, the festival celebrated its tenth year, and there was something of a science fictional theme. From the hi-tech Hackspace Cube installation at the City Museum to the re-imagining of Leeds post-zombie invasion in the Trinity Centre, many of the events played with alternative scenarios or reflected on what the city would be like in years to come. None more so than the Theatre of Illumination, a special light performance projected onto Leeds Civic Hall, created by OMNI Pictures. The design used 3D optical illusions and projection mapping, combined with surround sound, to create what was described as 'a futuristic journey through time and space', propelling 'the architecture of Leeds Civic Hall into the next century with the explosive energy of a firework display'.

Having seen the projection myself, the effect was certainly spectacular. The neoclassical architecture of the building, designed by Vincent Harris, was transformed by the light and music, swirling with geometric shapes and a Dr Who-style vortex. The idea seemed to be that The Civic Hall represented the history of Leeds, while the light show evoked possible futures. In that respect, this spectacle put me in mind of a very different but nevertheless Leeds-based fiction:- Leeds Beatified (see my earlier post on the obscure pamphlet from 1900), which features a Wellsian time traveller who journeys to a transformed future Yorkshire. The association with light has echoes in this passage when the traveller finds himself in 1951:

There was no longer the darkness which shrouded my first departure from Leeds in 1900. Every village and road was lighted by lamps which by combining electricity and compressed gas gave a brilliance otherwise unattainable. There were ingenious and artistic devices for such lamps. Illuminated Owls seemed to be in favour, for though an ill omen to others, the bird of night had brought prosperity if not wisdom to Leeds.

Likewise, the owls that flank the outside of The Civic Hall are, in 2014, still emblematic of the city. The Light Night performance, then, was not first foray into the future of Leeds, and it is very unlikely to be the last.

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