Light Night

For two nights, every year Leeds is taken over… this year by illuminated knights, stern-faced drummers and a whole host of light-based artwork. Light Night is a big part of Leeds’ cultural calendar, a celebration of arts and an opportunity to shine the light on some lesser appreciated parts of the city.

For the past three years, I have visited and every year I am amazed at how the city is transformed into a sprawling arts venue, entirely free. This year was my favourite so far.

Light Night began in Leeds in 2005 and has grown ever since. This year the theme for the festival was Mind, Body and Spirit. The festival is huge, it engulfs the entire city, sadly I could only go for one evening so didn’t see everything but from what I did see these were my highlights.

I began my light night experience at the Arena Zone, the northern part of the City Centre in the emerging Arena Quarter surrounding and incorporating the First Direct Arena. Brothers and Sisters by Ron Haselden was the first piece to capture my interest. The collection of largescale figures outlined with LED lights rise out of the usually mundane formality of Queen’s Square. The ten figures are created from the drawings of students from primary schools in Leeds portraying their friend or sibling. I enjoyed this piece for its interactivity, you could walk through the drawings that were brought to life.

Illustrations coming to life in Queen’s Square

En route to The Headrow, I made a stop at St John’s Churchyard to experience Swan Song, a collaborative piece between Opera North, Urban Projections and Manchester Collective. The trees in the church gardens are animated with music, birdsong and light. Tubes of light are suspended from the trees and invite visitors to stand within as classical music and birdsong play, the lights dance and immerse the viewer in the soundscape that pays tribute to birdlife and its effect on human life and art. I felt that this piece was particularly special as it was so immersive and the movement of light was wonderfully choreographed with the music.

Folk enjoying Swan Song

The peaceful chatter of Albion Street was interrupted by the rhythmic drumming of ‘Spark!’ who conjured a procession from the crowd marching us to Briggate. The stern-faced drummers put on a spectacular show of light, movement and sound. The performance was enchanting, intense and frightening. At times the performance would be silent and still, the dancers posed motionless, staring deep into the eyes of whoever dared to look back. Just as the suspense was becoming uncomfortable they would snap back into action with high impact drumming. To bring the performance to a close they dispersed into the bewildered crowd disappearing into the night. This performance, I felt was one of the highlights of the night.

Stern-faced drummer through the crowd

Down by the river, Leeds Dock I encountered two illuminated knights. Light Knights were created by Handmade Parade and proceeded down from the Royal Armouries to the amphitheatre at Leeds Dock for a clash of two papier-mache giants, accompanied by a small band of drummers. I enjoyed the procession and how everyone on the footpath moved aside in awe of the gently moving figures.

The procession of the Light Knights

Inside the safety and warmth of the Tetley’s Southbank room was an interesting interactive piece by the UK artist Gemma Wood. The Happiness Sum uses a series of measurements defined by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, it asks the viewer to consider everyday activities and see how much pleasure they bring us. The way this works is each visitor is given a hexagonal piece of acrylic and a UV pen, they then write something that brings them happiness and total up a score after answering all the questions. The questions themselves are spread across the room and decorated with neon signs. After you have a ‘happiness score’ you peg your hexagon to a wall and compare to what makes other people happy. For trees, I earnt a decent score at 17. Someone scored coffee at 12 and someone else matched my score of 17 with otters. I enjoyed this piece as it made you think and analyse what makes you happy and why it makes you happy. The artwork was incredibly interactive and the result was a room of happy people; with trees and otters where can you go wrong!?

My evening concluded with a roundup of a few city watering holes, disappointed having only been able to see a small part of the event but left inspired and excited for the next time Leeds becomes immersed in art and culture.

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