LightNight Liverpool 2019 review, pictures and what we learned from this year’s happening

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Batala Mersey

As LightNight Liverpool returns for it’s 10th year Getintothis‘ team spread out across the city out to catch as much of the action as possible. 

Marking its 10 year anniversary here tonight, LightNight Liverpool has grown in both stature and charisma year on year.

With over 100 organisations collaborating, spread across 40 venues for this free one-night event, which is now widely regarded as one of the city’s arts and cultural highlights of the year.

With such a wide variety of exhibitions and commissions on offer across the footprint of the city centre and beyond we make our first stop at Toxteth Library, where the energy and vibrancy seizes us from the get-go.

The atmosphere around Windsor Street is electric as Katumba Drumming provide the carnival beat with a fabulous performance of Latin American and Afro sounds to an enthralled and already bulging crowd.

As the drum beats there’s kids waving flags from the pavement lapping up every second of this frenetic display.

Over in Moorfields Station, in the Old Hall Street tunnel is a specially commissioned piece called Ritual 2.0 using sound from Forest Swords and visuals by Sam Wiehl.

It ponders a world governed by AI where machines take over the creative process.

Slogans and phrases “What does Liverpool’s creative future look like?”, “Without humans there would be no art” are projected onto 10 video screens as Friday night commuters dart for the train home.

A few people are here specifically to watch the installation. It’s this difference of purpose that makes the piece all the more interesting.

Relevant to those who have sought it out and completely irrelevant to those running to catch their train. It’s an unusual space for an art installation, which just adds to the intrigue.

Next up it’s all disco balls and glitter galore, with the theme for LightNight this year being ‘Ritual’ we find ourselves engrossed in pagan style ritual marking the anniversary of death of the queen of disco herself Donna Summer. Projectile Vomit hosting the spiritual glitz for this exhibition, and as early as the night may be there isn’t a single person to not break out into dance as I Feel Love reverberates around Constellations.

Staying in the Baltic, we meander past the obligatory stag and hens until we’re drawn to Northern Lights, and greeted with fine art and photography gallery showing of Rituals of the Mundane.

A gathering around a cosy lit wood fire brings a delivery of warming poetic storytelling, which provides a damning assessment of the impact of capitalistic gaudy sucking the life out of our beautiful landscapes.

Captivating and true in every sense.

In the Central Library the Rubbish Shakespeare Company are doing their version of Romeo and Juliet. The whole thing in an hour. The Capulets easily recognisable because they’re wearing caps.

Yup, it’s that kind of show. The way to insult the Montagues is to call them out as Montapoo.

Nevertheless they insist they’re not panto. But they are really. It’s cracking fun and it was good to see so many small kids engaged.

Rubbish Shakespeare Company

We trot over to St George’s Hall for the Mersey Hub brass band who have drawn a decent crowd. So too at the Bombed Out Church the crowds are out for the street food and drink stalls.

Bonus birds of prey display was also attracting a lot of attention. It was almost too busy in here, so we head on up the hill towards the Cathedral.

Always a keen participant in LightNight, there are various performances going on through the evening. We catch the Liverpool24 choral concert which was hauntingly rather beautiful, mostly made up of chant and organ music.

The Lady Chapel has been transformed into the Death Cafe where those who are so inclined can join a session to talk about the taboo of death and the rituals that surround it.

A brave step by the Cathedral, but an increasingly topical conversation as people are gradually learning this is a subject that merits discussion rather than silence and avoidance.

We wander back down the hill via the obligatory samba dancers towards what may be the highlight. In Exchange Flags there’s a new sound and vision piece called Halo from the makers of last year’s Illumaphonium.

Digitally linked columns have been decked with illuminated coloured discs, or halos. As people touch or tap them an aural soundscape is generated.

This was a big draw, even late into the night and it was easy to see why as people got caught up in the patterns of light and sound they were generating.

Given that last year saw us pumping to reach our aerobic thresholds on a stationary pedal bike, it’s with some trepidation that we make our way to the LJMU John Lennon Art & Design Building on Duckinfield Street.

Luckily, however, we’re not obliged to partake of the physicality on display in the New Spaces, Technology and Dance show in the Johnson Foundation Auditorium. Instead we can take our seats and let the students do all the heavy lifting; literally, in some cases.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019: talk to each other

In front of us is a dance floor and a big white wall. The performers walk invisible tightropes, lean and fall in to each other. Balance and trust seem to be the themes here.

In the background the same performers are projected, emerging from the ether and disappearing again, sometimes falling off invisible ledges and sometimes walking off the way they came.

The effect is sinister and disorientating, the intensity ratcheting as it reaches a crescendo. We’re forced to consider our digital images: always in the background, in some ways no less real than our flesh-and-blood manifestations, our meatspace personas, the ones that have to operate in the real world.

And no less  illusory for all that, ghostly and impermanent as our fake selves come and go, summoned and dismissed by mysterious means.

A solo performer is up next.

They start off by sliding from a chair in exactly the same way I nearly do every day in work, except I don’t follow it up with the lithe backwards shoulder-rolling on display here.

This could be a comment on our sedentary lives; how we spend most of our time sat down, immobile, out of touch with our bodies and ignorant of the possibilities and potential they hold. It is also possible that I’m projecting massively here, but for many of us, these are the rituals and repetitions we live out every day.

Further performances follow. There are balletics and human pyramids; a video of a lady communing with the Mersey and then a mysterious alter-ego, as a drone flies up and down from where she dances next to the Metropolitan Cathedral, a place whose uncanniness and Clockwork Orange futuristicness remains undiminished by time.

Then there’s a near drowning enacted against the backdrop of a synchronised swimming dance routine, one almost Sigur Ros-like in its sad grace.

After that it’s a trip to the Picton Reading room in Liverpool Central Library. It’s been transformed from its hushed, reverent daytime incarnation to a phantasmagorical pysch portal.

The ceiling is lit a violet blue, and the lighting globes glow like watchful sentinels. The only break from the noctilucent colour scheme is a circle in the middle of the room, awash with moving heat-map lava-lamp swirls and slicks.

It’s the kids who have the run of the place, approaching the portal to make shadow-puppets, each unaware of how close to a trans-dimensional odyssey they are.

From there it’s on to Matteo Borrini’s Cabinet of Curiosities for a look at Terry the Tarantula, an unfortunate soul who, despite all his vivisection and taxidermy, we still expect to twitch into malevolent arachnid life as our noses touch the glass of the display case. A fun display, continuing the Oak Room’s excellent record of exhibits following the punk displays earlier this year.

A quick stop at the newly opened and uber trendy SEVENSTORE sees clubland legendary DJ Graeme Park spinning dance classics, with an excellent exhibition of imagery from Mark McNulty from a bygone era of the electronic and rave scene as the backdrop.

Over at the waterfront the British Music Experience displays a screened walk-through the history of the music festival, sadly it’s quite a low turnout at the time of our visit, but we could gladly sit here for hours watching the fantastic tour through time.

It’s fascinating observing the different interpretations of ritual. Some, visually as far apart as you could imagine, yet linked by a common thread.

LightNight

Following the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival offering over at Liverpool Town Hall, it was called Living Room, and living room is what we got. Simple humble and familiar.

We were offered tea, coffee, of course, cakes and other nibbles. We were also presented with singing, poetry and were entertained by the little children dancing in front of the fireplace. In stark contrast to the civility offered by the Liverpool Yemenis, over at Victoria Gallery. 

Liverpool University had a Cave Rave. 

Primal, shamanistic and quite loud. Sea shell offerings and face paint. Not what you would expect in the restrained Victorian surroundings. Both were markedly different, yet, both shared the common theme of people coming together.

As the sun sets over the Mersey, the steps of Museum of Liverpool are brought to light with drum troupe Batala Mersey, a samba reggae ensemble with musical heritage brought from the North East Brazil, rhythmic percussion and dance swells the Pier Head as the spectating crowd are not one bit perturbed as the looming rain clouds moving in. 

The grand finale came at Blackburne House in the form of The Wicker Woman. History was re-lived as this performance was based on the witches of the past.

They were burned because of their beliefs and differences, which today is encouraged and not feared. A breathtaking performance of fire dancing, lights and music gathered a large crowd which concluded the evening.

The night overall is another resounding success story for all at LightNight, Open Culture, and of course for the city of Liverpool. Time will tell what the future will hold given the impeding uncertainty of European funding, but tonight is a night when the city of Liverpool and the people who call it home can be proud to host such an evening.

We are a city of dramatists, of troubadours, eccentrics and visionaries. And it’s on nights like LightNight where that explosion of creativity shines like a beacon to the rest of the world. Liverpool showcases like no other, the vastly rich heritage being the building blocks for this sensational creative hub we find ourselves calling home.

Images by Getintothis‘ team of Peter Goodbody, Kevin Barrett, Marty Saleh and Courtney Hughes

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