I was looking forward to Light Night Leeds 2009 in Leeds, a packed evening programme of sound and light public artworks of various kinds, all finished off with a tour of an installation at the magificent Temple Works building. It sounded fab and this review is admittedly a review of just the things I saw, which down to time and geography (it was a 3 mile walk all in all!) wasn’t much.
The first thing I saw was a feminist projection onto Old Broadcasting House.
#1. Projecting something onto a building is neither big nor clever.
In fact, it’s rubbish. No thought was put into the where on the building it was projected, what audio should be used (there wasn’t any) or anything. In fact, ironically, round the corner is a walkway with interesting lighting that I thought might be an artwork.
At the Old Broadcasting House there was an animation and a projection of a flash “My Galaxy” application.
#2. Putting an interactive digital thingy on a projector doesn’t make it more interactive.
In fact it makes it worse because then everyone else in the room is automatically (whether they want to or not) placed into ” a virtual queue”… waiting to “interact”… or more likely bored to tears at being forced to watch interaction. I hate these digital arts things that essentially say to you, add your stuff then watch as nothing in particular slowly unfolds. They come the same stable of digital arts projects where crappy animations respond to your voice, movement, hand gestures. Ooh look, arm-waving and purple blobs…Big deal.
On the way down the hill back into town, there was a projection of a marionette onto a building. In a Leeds Met entrance hall, there was a band on with a small crowd around it. Whoop de doo. Mind you, the entrance was lit interestingly.
At this point I saw 4 people wandering along in hoodies swinging glow-in-the-dark balls on strings. I noticed the huge car park to my left and how it was lit.
#3 Just because you’ve got some balls, doesn’t mean it’s performance art
The only things that hadn’t annoyed the arse of me were architectural, the walkway, the hallway and a yellowy car park in the drizzle. So far, Architects Utd 3 – 0 Leeds Creatives.
Cutting through the centre of town, at the Art Gallery there were some speakers making bubbling watery noises. I quite liked this “piece”… it wasn’t “interactive” so that you’d notice, it was entertaining some kids there and made me want a wee.
In another beautiful building there was an exhibition of the The Yorkshire Overland Sailors, which, er, despite being a great idea and cause, wasn’t art. It was a museum or educational exhibition, like a trade show stand for zany charities.
On the buildings there were some projections on buildings. Lame, lame, lame.
Dashing through to New Briggate I saw “The Idea of the North” by Lumen and Terje Isungset, which was nice and contempletive and by far the best attempt of the night. Although it still gets my goat when something with a couple of screens and some audio is described as “immersive”…
It was then a brisk march down to Temple Works and we were initially introduced to the ante-rooms to the main room in which some pieces has been created and they were eyeball-stabbingly bad.
Someone had made a man out of rubbish (bless!). Someone had taken some monitors and put stuff on it. There was a Cornelia Parker-esque collection of plates on fishing wires but not enough for a tea party. Bizarrely, there were some bloody fashion images of pretty girls in dresses which I hoped were harkening back to the previous tenants of Temple Works, the Kay’s Catalogue, but suspect was just a chance for a photographer to work with pretty girls. In one room there were some shelves attached to which were photographs.
The piece de resistance (and I mean piece as in “taking the” ) was a performance artist running around like a mad Mrs. Mop from kids telly pretending to clean the place. Dear god!
The work was appalling, embarrassing and vaguely insulting. When it comes to shit art, I’m actually quite tolerant, in fact I even like it, but shit art should pass at least one of my basic rules of thumb …
- Has some thought gone into it? This is the biggy, some works of art I don’t even need to see because the idea is so fab that simply hearing about it is (almost) enough.
- Did it take a long time to do? Effort can be a great substitute for thought.
- Did it take some skill? Skill is underrated these days, but can still be admired, especially when you might be a bit light in the Thought and Effort departments.
- Does it look nice? Hey, sometimes you can just get away with this one.
- Does it make me re-think the space? Space is a funny thing and when short of stuff to put in it, simply tarting up the physicality is an option.
- Does it make me laugh? For me, although not strictly essential, most good art makes me laugh out loud. Some makes me laugh probably as an attempt to cover up my fear, some at the preposterousness of someone’s Thought or Effort, some just because it’s funny.
These six criteria all fit together in a concept called Is It Any Good? which come in handy when looking at shit art because you can pretend that what you have just been looking at wasn’t a complete and utter waste of your time.
And then came the worst part, after having spent a long, long, long 30 minutes being held in captivity looking at rubbish, we still were no closer to seeing THE BIG ROOM…Like being locked in a never ending school pantomime, all smiling, bemused, embarrassed and wondering dear god when will this end.
I jokingly asked if we could leave. And asked again more seriously. I gave up and bailed and went home.
On the way home I got a text that said “would have bailed too – but they shut the bloody doors! Was really shit, you missed nothing.”. The organisers very pleasantly told me they’ll up the tempo for future showings and offered me a second run at it, but.. meh… like so many light-based installation events, the photos afterwards are often the only non-shit bit. (The Photo by Jim Moran of the main room is stunning isn’t it? But if I was been full on snarky, and so far I’ve resisted (a bit) it is just a great room with some lights in… or did I miss something? I’ve not seen any positive post event blog posts yet).
FOUR TIPS FOR LIGHT NIGHT ORGANISERS
Not that I know anything about events organisation, but…
1. Throughout the night there was the heady reek of “audience participation” boxes being ticked for arts organisations. Repeat after me “projecting something onto a wall doesn’t make it interesting and doesn’t make it inclusive”… in fact in many ways, it does quite the opposite if you think about it.
2. Just because it’s on, doesn’t mean you have to list it. Lots of the pieces were small and crap, and if I’d stumbled across the plinth people by accident I would’ve found them charming and fun but they are a disappointment as a destination. They aren’t a “main act”. It’d be like listing a witty remark about MPs in some bar as satirical entertainment.
3. Create a few big key events, something worth going to see, on a grand scale. Leeds as a city has that scale and the stuff I saw was more Dewsbury. The events should bring people together (briefly) to punctuate the evening somehow and create a shared experience… a tempo… a point.
4. Next year, why not try to avoid anything that uses the words, interactive, inclusive, immersive or projection…and put on something that is Any Good™… something to be proud of, to remember, to talk about.
I hope that helps…