One of the cultural highlights of the year in West Yorkshire is Leeds Light Night when, on two evenings in October, the city is transformed by spectacular light projections, interactive artworks and live music performances. This was the first time that I had an opportunity to attend the event, which has now become one of the UK’s largest annual arts and lights festivals.
This free event is divided into ten zones spread across the city and after arriving by train we purchased a festival guide so that we could more easily discover where events were taking place and the ones we particularly wanted to see. This year’s event celebrated the theme of progress and innovation and kicked off with an opening parade through the city streets. This, after dark parade, was entitled ‘The Art of Protest’ and featured a sea of neon banners, LED signs and pounding drums.
There were so many events taking place that I have just documented some of our highlights. One of the first installations we came across was Fantastic Planet. It looked as if huge aliens had landed on the streets of Leeds but thankfully on closer inspection they turned out to be inflatable creatures designed to look like they were tentatively exploring the city.
Moving on to the Town Hall we spotted some gigantic outdoor versions of living room lamps which changed colour every few minutes. This installation was called Bouquet D’Abat Jour and designed by French artists.
The interior of the large Kirkgate market was also a venue, hosting Light Night Big Top which celebrated 250 years of the modern circus. Leeds Children’s Circus had erected a Big Top and children were enthralled with the stilt walkers, jugglers and fairground side shows.
Nearby, inside the beautiful Victorian Corn Exchange building, a series of free concerts were taking place by the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. When we arrived they were rehearsing so we paused to listen for awhile. The building opened in 1863 as a centre for the trade of corn but has since been refurbished as a shopping centre for small, independent retailers.
Over at the Trinity Leeds shopping mall, the aerial artists of Cirque Bijou were to be seen hanging from the rooftop. Craning our necks, we viewed a thrilling performance as the acrobats gradually made their way across a high wire suspended above our heads. I tried to take photos but unfortunately from ground level they did not come out well enough for me to include them here. Moving along to Leeds Civic Hall, its facade featured an installation by Spanish artists entitled Chaos. This had taken inspiration from the University of Leeds research into quantum chaos and was projected onto the walls using light, sound and movement.
We saved the best to last as my absolute favourite was the fearsome and fiery dragon projected onto the front of the Queen’s Hotel near the railway station. This was a 3 minute spectacle not to be missed. Leeds used to have six wooden gates to protect the city and it is believed by some that a dragon once guarded the West Bar and when it was closed the dragon was chained in a dungeon.
Despite the intermittent drizzle we had a splendid time wandering through the streets viewing the city after dark and seeing Leeds under a different light. To round off our evening we popped into a warm and cosy pub for a tasty supper of fish, chips and mushy peas, making it a perfect end to our evening out!
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