Arts | Light Night – The City Illuminated

“What does that mean?” “Nothing, it’s just a massive waste of tax payer’s money!”  Stood at the edge of Millennium Square and apparently bereft of their senses, two sceptics considered Leeds Light Night in the dark; unable to appreciate the beauty, the atmosphere or their good fortune that our city had organised such an event.

Everyone else’s intrigued gazes were held by the annual art festival’s statement piece, its projected gears loudly crunching as they span. Dressed in light, the Civic Hall became the biggest canvas and the most dramatically aggrandised alarm clock in the city – one whose chimes you wouldn’t have ignored the morning after Varsity last week. Perhaps in a playful dig at the Olympic Countdown Clock, which broke after a day, digitalised workmen intermittently fixed the clock’s intricacies. Locals appeared as clockwork figurines on bright backdrops of fluorescent green gramophones and fairground carousels to carnival music for a minute every quarter hour. Including the public was a sweet gesture to community spirit but, positioned on a government building, the Momentous installation felt like the clichéd depiction of a society running like clockwork.

For a single night, Leeds fully embraced creative culture with loads of free events. Music, Theatre, Literature, Dance and Art were equally represented at venues across the city – from the oldest church to the most recent shopping development and the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. Young families and people of all ages came together to enjoy everything in large numbers, it was exciting to see the arts being so appreciated. This was all something to be celebrated and definitely encouraged.

The theme this year was Circus, not that you’d have necessarily have recognised its subtle expression through the odd street performance. The idea clashed with oddities like the car wrapped in silver cellophane outside the Art Gallery and the underwater themed Ariel dancing of The Sea Interludes on Headrow. Artist David Bridges of the Three Floating Forms admitted that he had to crowbar the theme into his work, having not stumbled across it himself.

Phase Revival: An Optical Harmonica was by far the best piece. Sat in a large, dark, smoke filled room in the Museum and looking a bit like a giant Newton’s Cradle, the mathematically devised kinetic piece was very popular with visitors. As blue lights highlighted them from above, twelve glass orbs (each representing breath through a hole in a harmonica in my opinion) swung through a beam of white light in time to metallic harp music.  Not only did the refracted light and calming sound fill the room beautifully, but the light projected fragile silhouettes onto the wall opposite – illustrating beauty’s transience since no pattern occurred twice. The repetitive movement caused the audience to become very reflective, evoking a strange sense of the primordial – the spheres, like new suns, were the only things in existence within the consciously scientific piece. The beam of light grew narrower as the song closed.

However, the hidden gem was the Trinity Music Festival playing in Trinity Church. Whereas The Wagon theatrical piece and other examples of modern art risked being pretentious and forced, music conveyed human experience through sound and lyrics in a thought provoking but beautifully simplistic manner. With a shock of ginger hair and leggings patterned like the stain glass windows of her church surroundings, Leeds Music College graduate Steph Frasier projected her powerful, Gabrielle Aplin-esque voice over the country-folk twang of her guitar.

Despite this triumph, interactive exhibits such as the Colour Piano and Fridge Poetry were really underwhelming – so it wasn’t surprising they were hidden in awkward places.   Fortunately, they were redeemed by The Narnian Experience which was just about worth the hour long wait to watch a fifteen minute performance in Mr Tumnus’ replica house. This was a specially penned prelude performance for a two week long portrayal of Narnian stories in Leeds this October. An “actual animatronic lion will be there!” and so will I; forgiving the occasional slip up, Mrs Beaver portrayed her character convincingly from the very beginning. It was too easy to forget that you’re in the middle of Trinity shopping centre as you are soon won over by her enthusiasm and that of Mr Tumnus.

Although Leeds Light Night really ought to have had sign posting, the fact that an event of this scale even exists is so fortunate given the frequent budget cuts suffered by the arts. If you missed it, I’d suggest you visited next year.


Katie Jones

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