All this week, as darkness fell over London, crowds of people have headed down to Victoria Tower Gardens, the patch of green next to the Houses of Parliament where politicians are interviewed for the television news, to see a light show that’s making an all too brief appearance on our shores. It’s called Spectra, it’s by Japanese sound and light artist Ryoji Ikeda and it seems to have captured people’s imaginations. Why should that be?
Spectra consists of forty-nine individual spotlights arranged in a twenty metre 7×7 grid, which each send a beam of white light fifteen kilometres into the sky. Seen from straight on the beams shine in parallel, but look up into the sky from below and they converge into a pattern like the star that hung over Bethlehem. Insects dance like sparks of light in the beams.
The installation is accompanied by a specially composed soundtrack, an ethereal mix of pings and booms from speakers placed around the edges. People have been bringing blankets and picnics to sit on the grass and drink in the experience.
The work was commissioned by the Mayor of London and 14-18 NOW (the WW1 Centenary Art Commission) to commemorate the outbreak of the first world war, the night when Sir Edward Grey famously said, ‘the lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ The commission went to ArtAngel, a collaborative which commissions and generates radical art projects, who suggested Spectra. It wasn’t made especially for the commemoration; it’s been seen in cities around the world, including Barcelona, Amsterdam and Hobart, Tasmania.
Ryoji Ikeda is an electronic composer and visual artist who performs at music festivals, concerts and visual art exhibitions throughout Europe and Japan. He’s produced thirteen albums and countless compilations. He’s currently based in Paris and many of his crew of thirty technicians come from the Paris-based Skylight company, which designed and installed the spotlights that illuminate the Eiffel tower.
You don’t have to go down to Westminster to see the lights; they’re visible from all over London. But if you want the full immersive experience you need to move fast, as the installation will end at dawn tomorrow.
With thanks to Travelling Dave who provided all but one of the photos in this post.