Lightwaves 2018: Event Review

Lightwaves by Quays Culture at MediaCityUK

It was cold. The icy wind was blowing. My finger tips were freezing over. It was the perfect setting (without the snow) for kids to sing Disney’s ‘Let it Go’ as they jumped and danced in front of a projector of blue, white and purple lights. As the children danced and sang, lights projected on the wall in front of them, following their moves, creating a firework type streams of glistening lights.

This pretty much sums up Lightwaves 2018 – an interactive light show for kids. Some of the light installations and artwork stood out, both in terms of how they looked artistically and how we as viewer interacted with them. However, these pieces massively lost their value when paired next to Daleks and tacky Blackpool Illumination pieces.

I reviewed Lightwaves 2017 and I kind of expected this year to be bigger and better, but I’m not sure it succeeded. There are new installations, new artists, new interactions, but it’s still just as confused, still a bit tacky, it’s very hit and miss.

Let’s go into individual installations in more detail. ‘Heart Beat’ by GNI Projects – this one was very cheesy and very lovely. To make the piece light up, you had to finish the electrical circuit. By touching a metal pad, and holding hands with someone who was touching a second pad, the love connection was created and the wires lit up red, creating a floating electrical love heart. It was one of those ‘aww that’s cute’ moments, very twee and cheesy but again great for kids and family. I give this piece points on the interaction, and it looks cool when it’s lit up, even better close up when you can’t tell it’s a love heart. The overall installation was very cute.

One piece that wasn’t interactive and yet very arty is ‘Art is Your Human Right’ which you can see across the water. I am shocked to say that this is one of the Blackpool Illumination pieces! It’s nice to step off the tram and see this message, like a ‘welcome to MediaCity’ sign. Yet, like the other decent pieces in this Lightwaves exhibition, the work was tainted by shitty Dalek mutants, intermittently shouting ‘EXTERMINATE’ in that annoying, roboty voice. Thanks for spoiling the view guys. Again, this further sums up the event, some great art mixed with some kid based tat.

David Ogle’s photography print was interesting. Based indoors, in the Salford Uni building (gave us a break out of the cold) the image itself was decent. It showed a large hill at dusk, silhouetted against the deep blue sky, with a path of light created by people walking up the hill with torches (I think). The stream of light meanders up the hill, all very lovely. Yet, it is printed on this huge canvas, too big for the actual image size it seemed. Nothing was sharp, it just made the quality look bad. Plus, the canvas needed a good iron, it was crinkly and creased. And there was this huge black band at the top, about 15cm wide, right across the top of the image. Why? It was all very odd. Like yeah, it’s great to print something big, but do it within your means. If the size takes away from the image, meaning you have to sacrifice the quality and add a random band, maybe don’t print it so big?

On the flip side, the other piece of work inside Salford Uni was really good! ‘Aura’ by Ronan Devlin, was like an adult version of the ‘Let It Go’ piece, it had the same concept, as you moved in front of the screen and sensor, your image was reflected in an ‘aura’ like mass. It slowly moved and blurred as you did. Like someone swimming in a eerily pretty, yet thick liquid, like a mermaid, magically underwater. What seemed to work well – which I’m not sure if it was intentional – was the music and sounds also in the building. There was a sound piece, creating ephemeral noises, that reflected the slow and whispy movements created in the work. I’m a big fan of art and sound pieces so yeah, this was a big tick for me.

Speaking of art and sound, this brings me on to the feature work of the exhibition, ‘Spectrum’ by Hub Studio. When walking up to this piece we thought it had drawn in a huge crowd, however, we quickly realised there was a community choir singing right in front of the installation. But, ‘Spectrum’ was decent. When you spoke into the rings, the light danced with the sound-waves. I personally liked to ‘woo woop’ as I thought that made the best waves. However, I may have wooped a bit loud, then felt bad for putting the choir off singing their Christmas carols. The piece was very Instagram-able, like it was made for Boomerang or time-lapse.

Although I enjoyed the event, I just can’t give it a raving review. It’s confused, it’s a bit messy. I am a huge fan of MediaCityUK, it’s very pretty and it is already full of lights. I don’t know if this is a bit of a hindrance to event. There are Christmas lights on the trees, coloured lights on every building, huge TV screens, tram stops and restaurants… All these added lights take away from the artwork in Lightwaves.

If that was the only battle the art work had, then maybe it would succeed. But, it is battling with the whole Blackpool Illuminations crap. Six installations were from Blackpool, that’s almost a third. I am guessing a lot of the budget comes from them, because if not, get rid of them now. Yeah it draws the kids in, but I don’t think you need them to do that. The kids we saw were equally enjoying the interactive art, if not more so than some crappy flashing motorbike cartoon characters. That’s another thing! This piece is placed right outside of Alchemist. The Alchemist, this shiny gold, fancy looking building, a place to go for a fancy cocktail and some decent food, and you step out and see these cartoon tacky lights. Like, imagine, if you thought; ‘Lets go MediaCity for the night, its nice and a bit swanky round there, oh, wait…’

Also, and I know we can’t help the weather, but one of the key installations advertised just didn’t exist! ‘Cathedral of Mirrors’ by Mads Christensen was commissioned for this year’s event, but was no where to be seen. According to the advertising on Instragram, this piece was going to be huge, a truly interactive piece that reacted to movement as people wondered through the huge cathedral like pillars. We heard it was now going to be inside the Lowry Outlet because it was too windy, we asked at the information desk, and it wasn’t. The woman at the desk didn’t seem to know anything about it, which was equally annoying. She is probably going to be asked that question everyday for the next week.

So, as a free event, I’d defo recommend checking it out, but maybe don’t travel too far just for this. Make a night of it, go for a meal, a drink, go to the cinema. If you want some awesome Instagram content and you’re a fan of interactive art, yes, visit Lightwaves. But on the flip side, if you are a fan of art, and don’t like being surrounded by whining loud kids singing ‘Let it Go’, don’t visit. Quays Culture need to scrap the Blackpool Illuminations, invest in more arty based pieces, and have one huge, key piece, and this event could really be something amazing.

The event is on from 7th December – 16th December. Find out more on the Quays Culture website.

For a listing of all exhibitions and events across Greater Manchester, check out our What’s On Calendar.

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