LightNightVarious venues 19/5/17
Another LIGHTNIGHT, another stout pair of walking shoes, as we prepare to traverse the city to gorge upon its many cultural treats. This year the theme is Time, and over the course of the evening we find ourselves travelling from Ancient Egypt to a 21st Century Babylon via a Renaissance soundscape.
Fittingly located on the outer reaches of the festival’s orbit in the University of Liverpool’s Garstang Museum, is the Egyptology Department’s exhibition THE BOOK OF THE DEAD. Containing many artefacts that are not on display in the University’s regular exhibition, the Egyptology Department have taken the opportunity to give us a fascinating peek into the belief system that underpinned the death rituals of the Ancient Egyptians. The promo promises “artefacts and artistic photographs of ancient papyri” and, interesting as the photographs are, it is the tangible objects that really capture the imagination; the death masks, coffin boards, statuettes and hieroglyph-inscribed papyrus. The latter are engagingly decoded by Senior Lecturer Dr Roland Enmarch; a depiction of the journey of the Sun God into the Underworld, delineated by the broad arc of the horizon, illustrates the cycle of death and rebirth and is neatly linked to the 20th Century Christian hymn Morning Has Broken.
Elsewhere, five death masks stare impassively from the wall and there is always a certain frisson in staring back into those ancient, inscrutable faces; magic spells abound, vital in steering the deceased past the dangers they will face on their journey; the feather of Truth sits on one side of a set of scales, awaiting a human heart to weigh, the destination of the soul in the balance – too heavy and you’re on a highway to hell, light enough and you can float with the angels; delicately inscribed shabtis (small statuettes) accompany the deceased on their journey; and, most hauntingly, the eyes painted on the side of a coffin, portals through which the deceased could return during the day and walk with the living. A fascinating start to the evening.
A brisk walk down Oxford Street and into the Metropolitan Cathedral and I’m just in time for a performance of ANDY MCKEOWN’s Rotation Eighteen269 – one of this year’s LightNight commissions (the title refers to the number of days since the Cathedral’s opening). Featuring a mixture of Renaissance music and contemporary light projections, McKeown has hung the Cathedral’s central sanctuary with shard-like strips of fabric, onto and between which are projected images of stained glass and writing from the Cathedral archives. The light which shines between the fabric hangings falls onto the rich scarlet robes of the Cathedral choir, who are performing Thomas Tallis’ 16th-century work, Lamentations. The beautiful, mystical, timeless quality of the music contrasts with the kaleidoscopic swirl of light and floats gently out across the wide-open expanse of the Met. The evening sun lights the stained glass of the overhead lantern and the audience bursts into sustained applause on completion of the piece. There follows an organ recital, MATTHEW SEARLE playing the music of Messiaen and Part, a lovely chiming introduction in keeping with the evening’s theme, while a constant flow of people walk around the Cathedral’s perimeter, almost all of them walking anti-clockwise in a subconscious re-winding of time.
Out in the evening sunshine, the vintage LightNight double-decker bus flies across the junction into the academic quarter, providing a fleetingly Hogwartian moment. Hope Street is jammed – ss is the Medical Institute, where Stephanie Kuebler-Preston’s glass hearts fizz with the red glow of neon and the blue of argon. The display cabinets are choc full of medical instruments; microscopes, gruesome looking hacksaws and a porcelain ‘New Slipper Bed Pan’ which only lacks an R. Mutt signature.
Now we’re into the Everyman for Paul Tallant’s installation exploring the relationship between dementia and the passing of time: a teddy bear lies upon a single bed, at its foot a suitcase full of maps, tickets, mementoes, above it, strung like prayer flags, hang brightly coloured pieces of paper upon which people are invited to write their earliest memories; nostalgic 40’s big band music floats across the room; a chess board is jarringly frozen mid-game. There is a prose piece, a letter written by a man who has just been diagnosed with dementia to the grand-daughter he will never know and who will never know the real him. A women stands before it, handkerchief held to her face, tears running down her cheeks.
The crowds are thicker than ever back out on Hope Street. After a quick stop in the buzzing watering hole of The Grapes, it’s on to the plateau of the Anglican Cathedral as dusk falls, and an encounter with the wonderful ‘Illumaphonium’. Illuminated dumbbells are strung in columns from two ‘A’ frames and people, young and old, are striking them at random, some leaping in the air to, literally, hit the high notes. The random notes are cleverly manipulated into chiming melody via the laptops of the Illumaphonium’s creators.
Finally, we’re into the bedlam of the Anglican Cathedral, which, despite having embraced a pretty alternative programme over the last few years has perhaps never witnessed a night like this. The choir area before the altar is jammed with dancing, whirling figures, at the centre of which is puppet-master and DJ GREG WILSON, pulling the strings on the decks with his usual eclectic ear. The lights fly across the vast space affording brief glimpses of statuary and paintings, and the dry ice provides a secular incense as it floats heavenwards. Wilson’s pounding dance set brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “God is in the house!”
The chatter outside as people make their way home, or off to the after party at Constellations, is all about LightNight. From families to regular Friday night revellers, the event has captured the imagination yet again. And, still, the activities are far from over: we’ll see your after party, and raise you a sleepover in a secluded corner of the Anglican Cathedral, as the aftermath of Greg Wilson’s set dies down.
Part of THE HANDLESS PROJECT – named after the Handless Maiden fairytale, to which the project’s lead artist Aleasha Chaunté has responded – this journey invites we of this way cooler option to immerse ourselves in the mystery of the space, investing our sleep and impending walk with, as suggested, whatever it means to us. Stowed away in this grand old place, we’re issued with floor berths, blankets and a sense of gravitas; it’s lights out around 11. Tossing and turning as If You Leave Me Now by rocktrocities Chicago plays on loop reminded me of music played to detainees… wait: a triple-take at the clock reveals it’s 4am and that really is Chicago, and we’re now so psyched for a bracing walk.
Accordingly, around the time LightNight after party-goers must be brawling over taxis, we’re arcing around our leaders as they sing up the sun, then marching by candlelight through a graveyard. You’ll never know it, after party-goers, but we win. We’re musical statues to further chanting; we’re down with the larks; we sup from a well. Our passage is voluntary yet predetermined, in full view yet in code – as per a wedding or funeral, such that you want to submit, stay within its structures and listen keenly. On we go in procession, copping a volley of abuse from one household (not Scouse, let the record state), and this, too, defines (particularly for Bido Lito!’s intrepid atheists) what ritual looks like and what respect for it does and doesn’t feel like.
Just after 6am, we’re in for breakfast at the soon-to-open Toxteth Food Central, and the pattern for this 36-hour piece is established: a day of walks, to Calderstones Park, Everton Brow and Love Lane, honouring personal landmarks pinned and sewn onto a cloth map of Liverpool at community workshops beforehand, at which people told and located their stories. And it’s now glaringly light, and we see clearly enough that we are safe in the benign grip of ceremony. Our walking companions will come and they will go – ‘from’ and ‘to’ pins on mindmaps of private worlds and strange, structured days.
There’s no question that LightNight reaches out to a broad and varied audience, with thousands pounding the streets to take in all that it has to offer. It’s hard to think of May without it now, so accustomed are we to experiencing the city’s multitude stunning buildings in new and illuminating ways. Long live the night.
Glyn Akroyd / @GlynAkroyd
Tom Bell / @writerTomBell