Remember the cute Anglepoise lamps from the Pixar animation of the mid-80s?
It was a ball game between two lamps, one large, one small, which ends in disaster when the little lamp gets carried away.
The short film is a masterclass in how some deft movement can bring a whole range of emotion to a piece of articulated metal.
Artist and designer Jason Bruges mentions the well-known short as he discusses the relationship he hopes will develop between people and what they see at his spectacular closing light and sound show for Hull 2017, Where Do We Go From Here?
The 20 robotic arms, mounted on three-metre-high plinths are already creating a frisson on Beverley Gate, Trinity Square and the Museums Quarter.
The 21st is tucked away behind gates at Wilberforce House where it will interact with the great abolitionist.
In their inanimate state they don’t look too cuddly. In fact the Mayor of London visiting Hull last week, thought they were a bit sinister. But Bruges said: “They are going to be quite playful. I think people will imbue them with characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get names.”
It’s hard to believe that prior to their starring role in City of Culture they did 15 years service in a car factory in Solihull.
But now the hands – known as effectors – have had their paint sprayers and welding tools replaced with light sources, mirrors, prisms and directional speakers, which can target sound with the precision of a stage spotlight.
The robotic arms will spring into life on December 1, moving on their eight axes, casting lights and big shadows onto builldings, alongside a “filmic” soundtrack of the eerie noises and beeps the arms make. The sounds were captured using hyper-sensitive microphones in a similar fashion to how the internal noises of the Humber Bridge were caught for the Hull 2017 project Height of the Reeds.
Bruges , whose work may well be familiar not only for the spectacular lighting up of The Shard on New Year’s Eve 2014, but also last year’s Illuminating York which used light and mist to carve shapes out of the vast space of the Nave of York Minster, said: “The ones at Beverley Gate are quite human-looking. They are like gatekeepers, signalling people to come through.
“Pixar animated the Anglepoise lamps and it reminded me of that. I think of them as animation or puppetry, more like a performance, choreography, a dance . They will almost be winking at you as you walk past.”
Those in front of Hull Minster will be calmer, casting pools of light among the mirror pools which kids will go chasing after.
“There will certainly be people who go: ‘Ooh, what’s that?’ People might be slightly wary at first – we hope to win everybody over. I want people to talk about it, but you have to tread quite a fine line to make that happen.”
Jason Bruges Studio’s team of architects, artists and lighting designers as well as specialists in electronics, programming and project management, and others, have been working for a year now on the show, which has a five-week run, starting next Friday. Organisers are hoping it will equal the phenomenal success of the City of Culture’s opening show back in January, when 324,000 people visited.
December 1 to January 7.