Detail from the illumination at Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset – part of the Night of Heritage Light. Members of the Society of Light and Lighting created bespoke illuminations for several of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites around the UK

Reflecting on the International Year of Light

Something that I have had to make my peace with as the UK Coordinator for the International Year of Light 2015 is that it is impossible to talk about the International Year of Light without accidentally making light-related puns. Events this year have been colourful, brilliant and full of bright ideas, and this blog post is no exception – it is a reflection on the International Year of Light.

One of the massive perks of my job is to see the fantastic ways in which the International Year of Light has inspired people and the sorts of exciting things they have created. These can span the full spectrum from events that reach thousands of people right to just one audience member.

It proved to be a fabulous year for thinking about the power of light – not just to science but to the arts, culture, design and the very fundamental experience of living, from Citizen Science using light to understand the air we breathe, thousands of school children experiencing Lightfest in Birmingham, raising Light and Dark Matters at the Tate Modern, and festivals bringing the wonder of light to city streets around the country.

These are just a few of my personal highlights that took place in 2015, from all over the UK.

Light wins gold at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show

Tatton flower show

Light is vital for all living things, especially plant life, and how better to celebrate this than through a garden? The RHS commissioned three special gardens for the Tatton Park Flower Show, all of which won a Gold medal for their incredibly high standard. The winner of the People’s Choice award for the entire show was one of these gardens, Reflecting Photonics, designed by Helen Elks-Smith and Kate Hart and inspired and informed by the work done on optical fibres by researchers at the University of Southampton.

A waveform path illustrated how light refracts along fibres, while fluorescent rods represented the fibres in a marvellous display of colour and light, creating a mystical glow even in the most overcast of light. Brighter sunshine brought subtle colours in the ‘diffraction tubes’. The planting complemented the technological elements beautifully, and researchers from the University of Southampton were on hand to explain the technology that the garden represented – a great outreach opportunity.

Arts and science working together to make a difference

Sensorium

How can artists and scientists work together to create meaningful experiences for people with multiple learning disabilities? Artist Steve Hollingsworth (Artlink, Edinburgh) and Professor Gordon Dutton (Emeritus Professor of Visual Science, Glasgow Caledonian University) have worked together to create the Sensorium – a bespoke interactive light artwork for Ben, an individual with profound and multiple learning disability.

Steve worked closely with Ben to create a sensory experience that was specifically tailored not only to his needs but that he could be in control of and gain enjoyment of. After two years of experimentation, Steve created a sound and light show, including science content such as images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which was optimised for Ben’s perceptual abilities. Although this project had an audience of just one person, it really drives home for me the life-enhancing powers of light and the providing access to the world of art through science and creativity.

Night of Heritage Light

Detail from the illumination at Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset – part of the Night of Heritage Light. Members of the Society of Light and Lighting created bespoke illuminations for several of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites around the UK
Detail from the illumination at Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset – part of the Night of Heritage Light. Members of the Society of Light and Lighting created bespoke illuminations for several of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites around the UK

The UK has the privilege of being home to so many sites of global significance and 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites were chosen to be part of the Night of Heritage Light. From the Tower of London to the Giant’s Causeway, sites were sensitively and creatively lit to illustrate the transformational power of light.

The night aimed to showcase the best talents of the lighting industry as well as to see these iconic locations in a whole new light. Lighting is an art form as well as a science, and the lighting teams came together to showcase the practical applications of lighting and how it can improve and enhance architecture.

Although 2015 has come to a close, I hope that creative projects like those above will have sparked imaginations and awakened curiosity about light and its impact on humanity, arts and science that will continue for years to come.

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Toby Shannon

Toby Shannon

International Year of Light UK coordinator
Toby Shannon
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