Reasons to visit this year’s Light Up Poole festival

Apparatus Floribo, an installation from last year's festival by Tom Dekyvere. Look for his Rhizone

Apparatus Floribo, an installation from last year's festival by Tom Dekyvere. Look for his Rhizone at Orchard Plaza, outside Sainsbury’s - Credit: Archant

February’s dark days are banished by Light Up Poole, a three day festival that combines art, science and history through the medium of lasers, light and sound

A light installation at last year's festival by Squid Soup

A light installation at last year's festival by Squid Soup - Credit: Archant

Having charmed more than 20,000 visitors with last year’s inaugural event, Light Up Poole returns this February to illuminate and transform this historic coastal town.

The three-night festival, sponsored by Poole BID and funded by Arts Council England, runs from 21 to 23 February and showcases the work of international and emerging artists with a series of light art, digital installations and participation events designed to cast a new light on Poole.

“Light is quite primal and light festivals are often held at the darkest times of the year to act as a reminder for people to gather together to remember they are not alone – there’s something magical about that,” says Liam Birtles, light artist and senior lecturer in Digital Media Design at Bournemouth University and a festival mentor.

“Light art is creating all kinds of new opportunities for young artists to devise work and show it in places that don’t look like galleries. Anyone with a laptop can do it and if there are opportunities, there are going to be jobs or at least ways of earning small livings from making stuff in a tradition of small designer makers, digital crafts.

“Light Up Poole belongs in that tradition – you don’t have to wait for permission, just do it.”

With international artists showing work alongside emerging artists and students from Bournemouth and Southampton Universities and Arts University Bournemouth, as well as Poole schools, the festival aims to inspire young people’s creativity.

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“We are showing work by world class artists as well as young local practitioners, so there is inspiration here for young people who feel the creative urge but wonder what their futures might look like,” says Libby Battaglia of festival directors Audacious.

Glow Poetry installation and NYX, the mobile Poetry Robot designed by Amsterdam-based artist Gijs Va

Glow Poetry installation and NYX, the mobile Poetry Robot designed by Amsterdam-based artist Gijs Van Bon - Credit: Archant

As daylight fades, Poole’s Old Town and Quay will provide the dramatic backdrop for artists to celebrate the town’s rich maritime heritage by responding to the theme of ‘Tides’. Through more than 20 installations audiences will journey along and under imaginary shorelines, blending art and science to explore navigation and the stars and illuminate the enduring mystery of the sea.

St James’s Church is synonymous with Poole’s maritime history and will host works by sound and light artists Ross Ashton and Karen Monid. On the church’s ceiling will be ‘Zenith’, which plays with the physics of light, placing the viewer in a world of refracted images in motion that might suggest the movement of the universe itself.

Projected on the walls outside ‘Horizon’ is the story of how humankind is discovering its place through what we see and how that view has changed through the tides of time. Beginning with the early scientific teachings of 13th century English polymath Robert Grosseteste, the piece incorporates 21st century imagery from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to demonstrate how our knowledge is shaped by what is visible and invisible to us as we continue to seek answers.

Across the harbour, light designers James Smith and Audacious are using revolutionary new technology by French engineering company Munuit Une to challenge the way we think about the urban industrial space of Poole Harbour and collaborating with Jon Oliver from Poole-based Wolf Lighting to illuminate the dockside cranes to create ‘Harbour Glow’.

“Light Up Poole will continue to grow Poole’s reputation as a destination for excellence in light art,” says Libby. “By bringing a site-specific focus to the festival’s global vision our artists develop, hone and share technical skills and artistic practice to foster innovation and stretch artistic possibilities on an ambitious scale.”

Light Up Poole are seeking volunteer stewards to work with the Culture Volunteers from Poole Museum. It is helpful, but not essential, to have some experience of arts events and to be enthusiastic about public engagement in the arts. Interested? Then email

Weather Machine by Andy McKeown, will be at Dolphin Quay flats ground floor

Weather Machine by Andy McKeown, will be at Dolphin Quay flats ground floor - Credit: Archant

Where art and science collide…

Though Light Up Poole will no doubt delight visitors with beautiful light art on familiar townscape, it is underpinned by academic and commercial ambitions.

Students from Bournemouth and Southampton Universities and Arts University Bournemouth are bringing various strands together to show how technology enhances art and makes the science behind it more accessible to the audience.

To transform unused spaces and offer new ways of seeing everyday shop fronts Media Production students from Bournemouth University have created indoor light art installations as window displays.

The ‘Photon Shop’ by Photonics and Astronomy students from the University of Southampton, invites the public to assist astronomers with research in Aurora Science to better understand space weather that damages satellites; or join in ‘Light Wave’, a hands-on demonstration of fibre optics and low-powered lasers that illustrates the importance of photonics in daily life. While the budding scientists of tomorrow will no doubt be inspired by The Light Express Roadshow which visits Poole schools with a laser light display to explore the physics of light and the science behind the internet.

Architecture students from Arts University Bournemouth have contributed outdoor and indoor installations, some showing at Lighthouse, and produced a scaled map of the festival route; while Creative Events students have worked on the launch event.

“Learning plays an integral part of the festival’s ambitions – inspiring and developing skills of our future leaders is essential,” Libby explains. “Light Up Poole is also about bringing a sense of civic pride that will impact way beyond three days of art.”

A key part of this year’s festival is the Light Art Symposium led by Bournemouth University, which Libby says will consider creative and commercial opportunities presented by cultural events, such as their contribution to the regeneration of places by developing cultural tourism out of season. “In the same way that High Tech Campus Eindhoven has put that city on the map as the world’s smartest square kilometre and home to more than 160 companies, Light Up Poole is an opportunity for the town to reach out to the world.”

Shedding light upon Poole and the first Brexit

Recalling the role Poole played in the first Brexit, ‘Sonic Tides’ by international artist Karen Monid will light up the historic gardens of Scaplen’s Court. In 1570 when the Catholic Church formally excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, a situation set in motion by her father Henry VIII’s split from Rome, Britain was effectively excluded from trade with Europe. To counter this theological Brexit with its twin threats of invasion and economic ruin, Elizabeth dispatched diplomats, merchants, soldiers and sailors in search of new territories, alliances and trading partners.

From the Americas to the Ottoman East, Britain spread its wings and its ports became hotbeds of intrigue where foreign faces and voices were frequently seen and heard. As these new allies sought entry and asylum, so British Catholics looked to flee their homeland – a flow of humanity that was played out in Poole’s streets, civic offices and inns, such as Scaplen’s Court, the 14th century merchants house that became a Tudor hostelry.

To add to the drama, the merchants of Poole would have doubtless exploited the neutrality of the Channel Islands as a back door to frictionless trade with Europe.

Working with volunteers from Poole U3A, who have researched what Poole might have sounded like at that time, Karen has created a transformational series of sonic landscapes of 16th century Poole to immerse the audience in a whirl of sound that echoes the tumultuous ebb and flow of uncertainty in 21st century Brexit.

Shining a light on local talent

An exploration of the ideas behind individualism and people living together, ‘Rhizome’ by Belgian light artist Tom Dekyvere reflects the digitalisation of society. The installation, which will light the tree space on Orchard Plaza, probes for unexpected connections between man and robot.

“Artists have the ability to show us familiar things in a new light,” says Libby. “Their creative vision can often reveal something new about where we live.”

Alongside international talent such as Dekyvere will be work from the GLEAM Talent Development Programme, offering a direct progression route for emerging and local artists.

An example of this is teenage light artist Seren Birtles who showed her first installation, part of her A-level Art at Blandford School, at last year’s event. Mentored by new media light and sound artist, animator and programmer Andy McKeown from Wild Strawberry, Seren has been commissioned to do a piece for St James’s Church Hall which she has called ‘Eyrie’.

Andy will also mentor songwriter-composer Sandie Elkin, from Christchurch, in the creation of ‘Digital Ripples’, a partnership project with SoundStorm, Dorset’s music education agency, and students from Carter Community School in Hamworthy. They will sculpt a digital auditory ‘breadcrumb’ trail to create a ripple of sound along the lamp posts on Poole Quay.

Literacy workshops with local primary schools created the poems for the ‘Glow Poetry’ installation and NYX, the mobile Poetry Robot designed by Amsterdam-based artist Gijs Van Bon, will write environmentally-friendly illuminating words and poems with glow sand on the streets of Poole.

Illuminating conversations

A highlight of last year’s Light Up Poole, Ashley Wilkie’s Juxtaproject invites audiences to make their own art by configuring projected images of different facial features on the walls of High Street buildings. The Bournemouth University graduate has also been commissioned by Audacious to create ‘Ebbs and Flows’, an architectural projection mapping on the Guildhall.

Funded by The Big Lottery, Audacious has also developed ‘Tidal Remedies’ – a community event to encourage people to have conversations around topics that emerge from workshops, discovery walks and interviews conducted by Dorset artist Gemma Aldred. An area of the High Street will be laid out as a café and actors will invite people in to share soup and join a discussion. These encounters will be captured in a digital machine, invented by artist Andy McKeown, and projected onto a wall and an online gallery.

“All too often our lives evolve in isolation through social media that ultimately leave us feeling somewhat divided and disconnected,” says Libby. “The aim of ‘Tidal Remedies’ is to enable local communities to talk about what matters to them and for those conversations to be projected to passers-by – sharing these issues can make our human interactions and public spaces more dynamic and democratic.”

Other festival highlights include Wild Strawberry’s ‘Star Gate’ water screen in which people can see their own reflections, and the hugely popular ‘Weather Machine’ where you can interact and play with the projected seasons and props.

And look out for the Celestial Beings - curious wandering giants summoned from the heavens to investigate Poole and its tide spies. Commissioned from Elixire Circus Arts these lofty creatures have many tales to tell including the umbrella of fireflies and who ate the holes in the moon.