This year’s Light Night event in Leeds looks set to be more breath-taking than ever. Now into its 13th year, this year will see more than 40 light-based art events, using the city as a canvas but the piece de resistance will be a dramatic audio-visual display at Leeds Civic Hall.
This year, the honour of creating the festival’s main display has been handed to Ross Ashton and Karen Monid from The Projection Studio. The pair have projected light displays onto all sorts of buildings, from the Houses of Parliament to hotels in Las Vegas.
Ross, 56, said: “We know this a very prestigious event and there was stiff competition for it, it’s well know in our community as being an excellent festival, so we were really pleased to get the commission. We don’t want to give too much away but what I can say is it will be bright and fast moving.”
The couple have spent about three months preparing for what will end up being a 10-minute display entitled Out of the Aire and that meant going into the archives in museums to wheedle out tidbits of information about the city.
“It’s things like Roundhay Park Lake being used to test torpedoes during the war and the world’s most successful (still) mouse trap, Little Nipper, being invented here. Leeds has a lot of industrial heritage - the man who invented the term ‘civil engineering’, John Smeaton, is from Leeds and so we’ve used some of this history in the display and the hope is that people will see it and some of them will go away and want to find out more.”
Karen is also at pains to stress how much local musicians and other volunteers have been involved in their creation, with tracks from up-and-coming Leeds acts Sam Airey, The Marsicans, Hope and Social, together with a host of volunteers who lent their voices to the piece.
Ross and Karen have projected light displays onto the Houses of Parliament and hotels in Las Vegas
Karen said: “One of the things we wanted to do was to have a piece where Leeds told its own history but particularly with the sound, to include the voices of those who live in Leeds. Local musicians have contributed to the soundtrack and that will mesh seamlessly with the visuals. Leeds is full of variety, with its population, its history, so that is reflected in the piece, there’s a huge variety of music.”
Light Night will take place at venues across the city on October 5 and 6. See: www.whatson.leeds.gov.uk/lightnight
Light displays in the pre-digital age
Ross ashton recalls the days before computers.
“We were cutting up film and taping it together and making masks out of tape and it was all very hands on.”
Karen Monid, 46, who cut her teeth as a sound engineer working on West End musicals but then migrated into projection work also recalls the bygone era: “We both started in the pre digital era, it was before computers. When I started in sound, I was cutting up pieces of tape with razor blades. Since then, we’ve come through this whole digital revolution, so you change, you adapt, there are more things possible now. That’s a constant challenge but one thing is true: you never stop learning.”
The couple, who are married, met around 1999 after Karen emailed Ross looking for work. Their work has taken them all over the world, from working on light displays for the London 2012 Olympics, in which they displayed images onto the Houses of Parliament, to hotels in Las Vegas and even ancient shrines in India.
“We design everything with a view that it has to be acceptable to everyone on some level, so we’re happy with kids running about in light beams and also with adults who just want to stand there. We want Leeds to have ownership of this. Throughout history Leeds has been a magnet for all kinds of innovators, from people like Louis Le Prince to great industrialists, we want to capture some of that variety. This is our first time in Leeds.”
Making light work of world records...
Ross also holds two Guinness World Records, the main one being for the most people used in an artwork, in which pictures submitted by 203,000 schoolchildren were turned into a ‘living mosaic’ to create 32 images of The Queen called Face Britain, which was then projected onto Buckingham Palace as part of the build-up to the 2012 Olympics.
The other record, which took place in Sussex in 2014, saw him working with a magician on the world’s largest (feet and inches) card illusion, the results being projected onto the side of a building.