Sensational effect planned for museum in festival of light

Illuminating York arts festival
Illuminating York arts festival
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The ancient buildings of York will once again be cast in a new light as the Illuminating festival returns to the city.

The now annual event, which has previously seen York Minster and St Mary’s Abbey turned into blank canvases for light artists, has managed to somehow outdo itself every year and it sounds like the 2011 festival may well continue that tradition.

A group of artists, currently working around the world, are coming together to execute plans to blow up the Castle Museum.

No, of course not really – but witnesses to the extraordinary light show planned for the city, might be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Ben Stern, of GaiaNova, an arts and events production company, is one of the artists behind the work which takes its inspiration from the building’s 18th-century incarnation as a prison and York’s most famous resident Guy Fawkes.

“The amazing thing that is happening in the world of digital event production is that the boundaries between the artists and the programmers who write the technology are being blurred and broken down,” he says.

“The programmers are the artists. It means we can come up with an idea and write the programme to fit it. We don’t have to go through the process of trying to explain it to someone who might not really get the vision of what we’re creating.”

For this year’s event Stern’s GaiaNova has teamed up with United VJ’s, an international group of artists, to come up with a concept for a new commission.

Envisions involves mapping the architecture of the Castle Museum with faces from the past and the projection also comes with a specially developed soundtrack which will allow the four walls to talk to visitors.

“A few years ago the technology wasn’t available and the projectors were not big enough for what we are planning,” says Stern. “But we are going to create a light installation that, yes, will make it look as though the building is being blown up and coming back together again.”

The festival grew out of an event in 2003 when the Millennium Commission awarded funding to those cities that bid to be capital of culture but failed. Bradford was one such city and used the funding to create Illuminating Yorkshire, a Yorkshire-wide event involving five key cities, York, Hull, Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford. This saw a variety of events based around lighting up the cities.

Since 2005 York has been inviting artists to come to the city and use light and sound to change the way people see the city. The first event was such a success that a number of organisations came together to make sure that it wasn’t a one-off – and it has quickly become one of the city’s four major festivals.

Stern says: “What I have really enjoyed about Illuminating York is that it is a way to make this really historic city, with these incredible buildings, really come alive with incredibly contemporary technology.

“In a way this is something the Victorians did, with magic lanterns. What we will create in York is the same idea, just with technology that is so incredibly advanced.

“I think it will look spectacular.”

Illuminating York runs in the city from October 26 to 29. For a full programme of events visit