Lightpool, UK

Round Gradient Remix, Liz West. Pic: David Mercado

Over 50,000 people attended the LightPool Festival from October 28 to November 2 2016 in Blackpool. The newest light art festival in North England (and newest Light Up The North network member), it celebrated last year’s Blackpool Illuminations, the world’s oldest, free light show.

In 2014, The Coastal Communities Fund invested £2million into Blackpool over two years with the aim to create sustainable growth through cultural innovation. Building on the love for the Illuminations, LightPool developed a creative vision for the 105-year old show. Reconnecting The Lights with the people of Blackpool is a key part to this, and with additional support from Arts Council England, LightPool brought together the strands of the two-year programme into a free celebration of light, art and fire.

“There is nothing quite like Blackpool Illuminations in terms of scale,” said Alex Rinsler, Creative Lead and Festival Director. “Over many years the Illuminations have played with light and lighting technologies to create a magical experience for people to enjoy. The LightPool Festival offered the opportunity to make work in the place where The Lights began.”

35 light installations included 21 new commissions, six large-scale productions, five giant projection shows on Blackpool Tower, on-going community and engagement work and a conference. Installations were curated to appeal to a wide range of audiences, and to celebrate the diversity of light technologies with 2D, 3D, durational and interactive works. From a rusted Punch and Judy booth playing a fifteen-minute projection (Salvage Sideshow by Hannah Fox), to a colour wheel of light transforming the Winter Gardens’ iconic dome (Round Gradient Remix by Liz West, in partnership with Lumenpulse), or a ghostly figure haunting a lonely bench on Blackpool’s promenade (I Waited by Elisa Artesero), the festival opened up the town in unusual ways.

A scientific piece, Brain Container by Jo Berry, illuminates a series of digital design drawings from a range of neuroimages from Dr. Lena Palaniyappan’s research to create images for a thoughtprovoking installation.

The display is accompanied by music by composer Angela Slater, having designed the sound in response to imagery found in Berry’s studio.

Activist and light art pioneer Yoko Ono offered two works created 50 years apart: Parts of a Light House and Imagine Peace. Parts of a Light House – 60 delicate glass prisms refracted light in response to Ono’s original script from 1965, describing the lighthouse as ‘a phantom house that is built by sheer light’. The work illuminated the altar of Blackpool’s Sacred Heart Church, well-known for its unusual octagonal roof. Secluded in a chapel to one side, was Michael Trainor’s Goodbye Coco, a coffin for a fictional clown, bedecked in 540 fairground lights.

Turner-prize nominee Mark Titchner created two projected works that referenced ‘Progress’: Blackpool’s borough motto. Plenty and Progress, inspired by Claudegen’s 1930s neon designs, to illuminate Blackpool Town Hall – a symbol for development and prosperity. Nearby, What use is life without progress? reflected unreasonable pressures for self-improvement, a giant gobo projection not out of place on Blackpool’s promenade.

The LightPool project has enabled the town to come together around light: The Grundy Art Gallery hosted NEON: The Charged Line, which attracted a record number of visitors and received national coverage, including iconic works from Tracey Emin and David Batchelor. Works from the show spilled out of the gallery, including Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Tim Etchells, positioned on the roof of the building.

Also of note was Art Is Your Human Right: five illuminated signs from Bob & Roberta Smith, manufactured at the Illumination’s depot. They create a visual trail and work to challenge perceptions of public space. It appealed to the artist that the signs would need to be cared for and maintained over time, just like our own human rights.

“Producing a light art festival in Blackpool presents its own challenges,” added Rinsler. “The town is already bathed in flashing lights. We encouraged artists to play with what is already here – not to compete with it. Local ownership is vital to its success in the long-term, so events like Lumidogs (a mass illuminated doggy fashion show) are just as important as strategic partnerships with makers and innovators like Lumenpulse, or presenting work from some of the world’s most important light artists.”

The aim is to develop the event as a biennial, showcasing the best of light and fire-based performance, as well as visual arts. “Blackpool’s history with light and with entertainment sets it apart from other places. It’s a gap in the cultural landscape that fits Blackpool’s personality and history,” concluded Rinsler.