It’s Poole but not as we know it – the town’s first festival of light is set to interrogate the way Poole looks by casting it a whole new light.
Light Up Poole, sponsored by Poole BID and funded by Arts Council England, runs from 15 to 17 February and presents a series of opportunities to see Poole as it has never be seen before as the town centre after dark becomes the backdrop for dramatic light art and digital installations.
Among the headline pieces is a new version of the stunning installation Submergence, and artwork that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Created by Squidsoup, the international collective of light artists, researchers, technologists and designers who specialise in creating immersive digital and interactive media experiences, it is composed of thousands of individually controlled lights that interact with the audience as they explore it.
“Its beauty belies its complexity,” says experimental digital artist Liam Birtles, a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University who has worked as part of Squidsoup for more than a decade. “People see a beautiful glowing cube of points of light, they walk towards it, realise they can enter it and then look back out from inside it – they can’t help but see their immediate environment in a new light.”
This new work will be set to a soundtrack of sounds found in the town and each moment of the Submergence Poole composition will be a unique dynamic display generated by the audience interacting with the lights, a constantly changing, evolving response to the town.
“Imagine it as fireworks or snowflakes – shapes and forms are recognisable but no two things are ever exactly the same,” explains Liam. “In fact people find it a meditative and spiritual experience, they find it an emotional space. We’ve had marriage proposals inside the piece.”
Squidsoup has developed bespoke software in the creation of Submergence and accompanying works that allows each individual pixel to be placed in 3D space – the artists think of the works as an exploded volumetric screen.
“Effectively we have created our own medium for expression so in that sense what we are doing speaks directly to traditional artistic practice – we’ve stretched our canvas, mixed our paint and now we are creating art. What I love about creating Submergence in Poole is that in the context of Light Up Poole with the involvement of local artists and young people it links to Dorset’s tradition of artisan makers.”
Learning is a key element of Light Up Poole and the festival has been working with local school students and young artists on a series of creative opportunities, including the Sounds of Poole album and music technology project, vlog-making and film poetry at Poole Museum.
Liam’s daughter Seren will be showing a projection mapping light art project made as part of her A-level Art studies at The Blandford School exploring bird behaviour and form and our relationship to them.
“Seren’s piece is an abstraction of birds flying and flocking,” says Liam. “Lately her work has focussed on the motion movement of seagulls explored through projection mapping. I thought that Seren and her work fitted the goals of Light Up Poole so it was as simple as me asking if she would be interested if it was possible – it was so she is.
“I think that’s a really important part of a festival like this – light art is creating all kinds of new opportunities for young artists to create work and show it in places that don’t look like galleries. Anyone with a laptop can do it and if there are opportunities there are going to be jobs or at least ways of earning small livings from making stuff in a tradition of small designer makers, digital crafts. You don’t have to wait for permission, just do it.”
Dorset has a history of crafts and small maker practice, it has a history of festivals and an emerging media industry so it seems eminently appropriate that Light Up Poole acts as a forum for such practices. Liam sees the chance for Squidsoup to be involved in Poole’s first such event as a chance to add to the town’s growing cultural reputation.
“Light is quite primal and light festivals are often held at the darkest times of the year to act as a reminder for people to come out of their shelters and gather together to remember they are not alone. There’s something magical about that.
“So Light Up Poole belongs in that tradition and as the town is one of the very few on the south coast that has an industrial landscape to respond to it is going to provide some really interesting perspectives – from the historic Quayside and old town to the mix of buildings on the High Street and the almost brutalist Dolphin Centre.’