Lightwaves 2017: Exhibition Review

Lightwaves 2017 at Salford Quays.

There is so much happening in the art scene that focuses on the digital age that we live in. Current exhibitions include Digital Matters exhibition at CFCCA, and humansbeingdigital at The Lowry. Alongside this, across Salford Quays and Media City UK, we have Lightwaves, the UK’s largest, free, outdoor digital art event.

This 10 day event runs from 8th – 17th December and you can see a mix of large-scale commissions, interactive pieces, as well as workshops and performances. On The Quays Culture website you will find a full itinerary of what’s on.

There are some notable pieces in the festival, and some questionable ones too. Our favourites include two huge commissioned works. The first of these light sculptures is ‘I Forgot’ a large-scale, neon installation, created collaboratively by international writer Jackie Kay, and Soup Collective, a Salford Digital artists group. The piece stands proud in The Lowry Plaza. The neon text shines brightly against the dark winter sky, forcing people to take note and think about what they have forgotten to say. There is a phone number on hand too that you can call anonymously, and leave a message about something you have forgot to say, to be used by the writer in a new poem.

The second installation, ‘Hydrozome’ created by Tom Dekyvere is the headline commission of the event. His work has been used in all the advertising images of the light festival. I will admit, the poster image is a little misleading as the installation comes across a lot bigger than it actually is. However, it is still one of the best pieces in the show. Combining lights, ropes and sound, ‘Hydrozome’ interacts with the audience and it’s surroundings. There is a microphone (hydrophone) submerged in the water of the ship canal. As the water moves (either naturally, or from people moving on the quayside, or boats creating waves) the sound of this is then synthesised and played through speakers within the piece. That also triggers the LED lights to pulsate against the web of ropes overhead. Tom Dekyvere calls the microphone the ‘digital pacemaker’ of the piece, as everything reacts to that. It’s a eye-catching and fascinating piece of work and also extremely instagram-able.

However, there are some artworks in the festival which seem out of place. I personally wouldn’t call these pieces light art, or interactive art. All of which are from the Blackpool Illuminations collection. I am totally on board with Blackpool illuminations and go to Blackpool almost every year to drive down the promenade and gander at the lights. However, these pieces are very much the odd balls in the Lightwaves festival. I assume they are there to ‘bulk’ out the exhibition, and as a fun thing for the kids to see. However, there were more children over at ‘Hydrozome’ than there were looking at moving pirates and Sooty and Sweep. I mean, who even watches Sooty and Sweep these days? I feel like these pieces cheapen the whole feel of the festival, and change it from an art installation to a kids attraction.

That aside, the Lightwaves Festival is a fun event, and watching people interact with the work is great to see and I’m sure the artists will agree. It’s events like this that help people who may not call themselves ‘art fans,’ naturally interact with the art world around them, knowingly or not. And yes we had to brave the cold and the snow to see the work, but it’s all free, and in December, anything to do that is free has to be a good thing. I just think it needs more budget perhaps. As I said, certain works in the festival were fantastic, but I couldn’t help thinking it’d be better if it was bigger, if it covered more space, if there was more work… Maybe next year?

Download the festival programme, and map of the artwork here.

Don’t forget to use the hash tag #Lightwaves2017, and also #cottononmcr to be featured on our Instagram.

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