Art sheds light on York’s rich heritage

Illuminating York returns next week and the theme this year focusses on the city’s leading lights. Yvette Huddleston reports.

An artists impression of Hidden Worlds, the central artwork of this years Illuminating York
An artists impression of Hidden Worlds, the central artwork of this years Illuminating York

Next week’s annual Illuminating York, recently listed in the Guardian’s Top Ten European Light Festivals, will feature 12 brand new illuminating artworks celebrating the city’s ‘Leading Lights’, with the central piece, Hidden Worlds, being projected onto the elegant John Carr-designed 18th century Crown Court building.

Created by London-based creative collective Seeper, Hidden Worlds takes its inspiration from the work of 19th century York physician John Snow who discovered how cholera spread and also went on to pioneer the use of anaesthetics. Seeper’s 3D mapped animation projection will transport the audience into the unseen world of the microscopic and the unconscious.

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The collective, which was formed 15 years ago, is known for producing cutting-edge, immersive experiences that inspire a sense of awe and wonder. “We have had several thousands of people at a projection before,” says Alex Tennyson, lead artist on Hidden Worlds. “People seem to like them and find them interesting and entertaining. It’s always exciting creating something new and it feels like everyone in York is quite excited about it.”

The Seeper team – which includes three creatives working on the sound and visuals plus another seven looking after the technical aspects – have been collaborating on the project for around six weeks.

Tennyson says it made perfect sense to him to use Snow’s pioneering work as a starting point. “His work is quite relevant to computer art in a way,” he says. “He looked at organic systems and that has influenced people today in the way they make computer art and certain forms of 3D animation. It all felt quite right when I started reading about him.”

There were a number of options as to which building would be the backdrop for the artwork. “We looked at the Castle Museum and a couple of others,” says Tennyson.

“Then we went with the Crown Court because no-one has done it before. We have been working on sound textures and styles, talked about the design and what will work on the building and mapped out what we are going to do. We are making it quite abstract and metaphorical and fun. It’s all going well so far, but the proof is in the pudding. ”

The festival will also include SPARK, the arts initiative set up by City of York Council in 2013 and supported by York St John University, to showcase the work of new and emerging artists.

This year’s performances will include Four Shadows Theatre’s Remember Remember at the Treasurer’s House, Viaperformance will be performing their confectionery-based revelry Then Chocolate Shall It Be in King’s Manor. Miss Hazzard will be bringing illuminated street art to the Memorial Gardens, while a couple of lost astronauts will be wandering through the city trying to remap Yorkshire with Wunderbar – The Grid.

Other highlights include a steampunk-inspired Victorian workshop where ‘inventors’ will take visitors on a journey through the world of 19th century inventions, stories of Viking invention and exploration at Jorvik and at Barley Hall the unsavoury side of medieval and Tudor medicine will be explored as various dangerous medical experiments will be carried out on unsuspecting ‘patients’.

• Illuminating York, October 29-November 1. Full programme