As the Creative Director of Bristol Light Festival, the question I get asked most often is what my favourite piece is this year – that’s an impossible one to answer, it’s like being asked to pick a favourite child.
There is something to go and see to suit whatever mood you’re in; if you’re feeling high energy head to Swing Song or Trumpet Flowers – both pieces are powered by your movements. If you’ve had a bad day and need to reset, try Scream the House Down: Bristol where the whole building is illuminated by the vocalisations you make into a microphone. If you’d like something more peaceful there’s Ophelia and Continuum, both artworks I’ve disappeared to when I need a calm reset. Morag Myerscough’s Let Us Shine is an artwork to celebrate our individuality and the two Overheard in Bristol signs act as a message of love to the people of Bristol, and the perfect selfie spots. Head to Halo if you’d like to make some music and Beam if you’d like to immerse yourself in colour and light.
In this blog I’ll share some of the thinking behind the programming and tell you some stories about each artwork.
We designed this piece together with a local company Tired Industries for last year’s Bristol Light Festival, and they were so popular I think they will be a fixture for many festivals to come. We wanted to create a piece of public art which gives pure serotonin for audiences as they interact with it. The swing seats are built to fit adults and children alike (it was important to us to make sure that the seat widths were inclusively sized).
Each swing triggers sounds from a different part of a musical arrangement – from left to right in each set you’re in control of the beat, the bass and the melody. When all the swings are in motion the strands light up and the full music score plays. For those interested in detail, this year we’ve linked the swings to the trees surrounding College Green, they also light up and change colour in response to the swinging.
Sirens is a beautiful piece which depicts mermaids and other magical creatures who have swum over to visit us in the Harbourside. Unfortunately, the pollution levels in the oceans are driving magical creatures in land. This is the first of two pieces by Davy and Kristin McGuire of Studio McGuire, created by a holographic projection.
Submerging a giant screen into the harbourside was an adventure for the festival production team one very early morning the week before the event. Each day before the festival opens, we maintain the environment for the mermaids by fishing out waste which is discarded into our waterways.
Davy and Kristin are the reason I first came to Bristol, decades ago when they made a small, intimate piece called The Icebook, a pop-up paper book which projected a story onto the pages. We then worked together on a stage adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle which ran in the West End in 2011. Their career since then has been extraordinary, making work in over 25 countries for clients like Dior and Barneys’ Madison Avenue. They’re off next to show a new piece at South by South West (SXSW) festival in Texas.
Davy and Kristin’s other installation in this year’s festival is inspired by John Everett Millais’ pre-Raphaelite painting of Ophelia and shows Shakespeare’s tragic female character as a life scale projection in water. Millais’ painting is one of my favourite works of art, and well worth a visit to the Tate to see it.
Davy and Kristin’s interpretation is profoundly beautiful, staged in St Mary Redcliffe Church. If you want to dig deeper into its interpretation, check out Prof. Pascale Aebischer’s book “Shakespeare, Spectatorship and the Technologies of Performance” which has dedicated a super interesting article (and its book cover) to the piece. This is Kristin’s favourite McGuire piece, and it is Kristin performing as Ophelia here (she’s also one of the mermaids in Sirens, if you can spot her swimming through the harbourside with the other magical creatures).
Let Us Shine
Everything about this artwork makes me happy, the joyful colours, the message of freedom and strength, the sustainability of this piece – it’s made from wood repurposed from Morag’s past installations.
Morag says, “For me, ‘Let Us Shine’ means everyone being able to be who they want to be and who they are, not being told how to be or what to say or do. There is a direct connection between ‘shine’ and it being an artwork that uses light but the real meaning behind it is freedom and strength”.
She wanted to make an artwork that responded to the historical location of King Street, and we had a lovely visit at the start of the design process walking along the well-trodden cobbled road. Morag fell in love the buildings and architectural details of the street and wanted to give a nod to the history of the street.
Morag is best known for her bold choices in colour and pattern. She chooses colours depending on how they interact, play and connect with one another. For Bristol Light Festival we used simple black lights to make the neon colours glow. I love walking past this installation at sunset and watching it morph from day to night.
Overheard in Bristol – Cheers Drive and Alright My Luvver
The two main selfie spots of the festival, these giant neon signs are our love letters to the people of Bristol. We created Cheers Drive for our first edition, and during lockdown we donated it to Bristol Bus and Coach station as a thank you to all our frontline workers who were keeping our city moving during those difficult early months of the pandemic.
There seems to be some mild controversy about the missing ‘H’ in Alright My Luvver, so I’ll let you in on a little secret… we’ve replaced this ‘H’ four times, and each time it gets damaged! What are the chances? So, we’ve taken this as a sign (no pun intended) that this is how the city wants us to spell this well-loved colloquialism.
I remember as a small child being obsessed with Alice and Wonderland, particularly the scene where Alice walks through the flower garden and all the plants start to sing. Trumpet Flowers seems like the closest thing to this happening in real life. Australian company Amigo & Amigo are well known for their interactive, playful music projects, and these giant flowers which play music in response to touch are one of my favourites of theirs. Be sure to stay for the scheduled floral symphonies throughout the evening, every 15 minutes the Trumpet Flowers play a song for all to see.
Local artists illumaphonium have toured all around the globe with their artworks, yet despite living so close to Bristol, this is the first time they have shown their artworks to the city. This is so often the case for South West artists; I often spot local artists in festivals in Europe, Australia and the States. Bristol really does have an international reputation for creativity and innovation that is celebrated around the world, but it’s nice to showcase this talent at home too.
For me, Continuum is the place I go for a moment of reflection and peace, walking round the installation in the historic setting of Temple Church feels meditative and deeply soothing. I love watching audiences as they move around the piece, it feels like a wonderful place to escape the busy city and take a deep breath.
The sister piece to Continuum is Halo in Broadmead, both artworks are multi-sensory with visual, sound, touch and feel elements as part of the interaction and experience, where Temple Church is a stunning space for reflection, Broadmead is a perfect setting for people of all ages to just have fun, creating music with friends, family and strangers and really enjoying a city centre space in a new way.
Gemma and her husband Michael are illumaphonium, the artists behind the stunning Continuum and Halo pieces. However, it is a real family affair with Michael’s son Obi coding all the installations and Gemma’s dad helping with installation set up. It’s so lovely to welcome them home to Bristol.
Scream the House Down: Bristol
Marcus Lyall is one of the most exciting lighting designers in the UK right now. His career started with live film shows during the heady days of rave, then moving on to specialise in making visuals for large-scale concerts. He now works on a range of moving-image projects, from award-winning stage visuals for The Chemical Brothers and Metallica’s feature film to directing a commercial starring Lionel Messi.
A version of Scream the House Down was originally created in lockdown where audiences were invited to join a zoom call to let out frustrations with a scream, and this scream would illuminate a building in London. We wanted to adapt the piece for live audiences here in Bristol and were so excited to be able to use The Corn Exchange over St Nick’s Market for this installation.
A new artwork commissioned for Bristol Light Festival, created by Bristol-based creative agency PYTCH. ‘Beam’ uses lasers and haze to create a beautiful, ever-changing light sculpture for audiences to immerse themselves within.
There are so many excellent ways to view this piece. Approach from Castle Park to look down onto the lasers, then head onto the bridge itself for a completely different experience. By the end of the night, I love to watch visitors engage with the rainbow bridge whilst sipping on a ‘Bright Beams’ pale ale, specially brewed for the festival by Left Handed Giant.
It’s such an honour every year to work with Bristol City Centre BID and our other wonderful partners to bring some colour, light and play to the city centre at what is a traditionally dark time of year. We hope you have a magical time in the city with us. Do share photos with us on Instagram @bristol_light_fest and have a chat with our stewards at any of the installations. I hope to see you all in the city soon.
Bristol Light Festival is presented by Bristol City Centre Business Improvement District (BID) supported by Redcliffe & Temple BID, Broadmead BID and Cabot Circus. The festival is also supported by Bristol’s City Centre & High Streets Recovery and Renewal programme, which is funded by Bristol City Council and the West of England’s Combined Authority’s Love our High Streets project, with the aim of supporting the recovery of Bristol’s priority high streets. The festival is curated by Creative Director Katherine Jewkes.
Katherine is an award-winning Creative Director and Digital Producer, with over fifteen years’ experience of bringing adventurous ideas to life. She’s designed experiences for clients including Twitter, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, and has worked for Louvre Abu Dhabi, Théâtre du Châtelet Paris, National Theatre Wales and Manchester International Festival. Katherine is a resident of the Pervasive Media at Watershed and is proud to have adopted Bristol as her hometown.