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Illuminate 2017 at Royal William Yard

This week, Illuminate - a light festival for Plymouth - took place for the first time at the historic Royal William Yard after many years on the Barbican, and, artist in residence, Martin Bush invited us down to join him and enjoy the experience. It was a chilly but dry night, so we donned our warm coats and woolly hats and scarves and headed on down to Plymouth.

The spectacular light show marked the 397th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth to America in 1620, a journey which took 66 days to complete and significant for transporting the first English Puritans to the New World. The event forms part of a worldwide countdown to the Mayflower400, an event which will commence in November 2019 and culminate at Illuminate 2020 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage. This is, according to Professor Chris Bennewith, lead on the University of Plymouth’s School of Art, Design and Architecture submissions to the festival, “a bit of a test run”, but that is not to say that Illuminate 2017 was merely a warm up event, because it was spectacular!

The main piece, a captivating light projection, was displayed on the Melville Building, home of the offices of the old Victualling Board. Alongside this were other illuminations around Royal William Yard, workshops, exhibitions and live music giving the whole space a truly festive feel! The light projections were designed and mapped by a few different organisations, all coordinated by The Media Workshop and Plymouth College of Art, who, as part of the European funded project Euranim, worked in collaboration with animation students from across France, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark and Finland to produce pieces based on the maritime heritage of Plymouth. Light Art installations and visual pieces were also created by the staff and students from the University of Plymouth’s School of Art, Design and Architecture, led by Professor Chris Bennewith who was formerly Creative Director for Wellington’s LUX Light Festival in New Zealand amongst other international projects. LUX attracts over 100,00 across a 9-day festival and Illuminate has similar ambitions, hoping that with 2 years of developing the event, it can attract audiences to rival the Annual British Fireworks Championships hosted in the city and spread across an array of Plymouth’s waterfront locations. All of which is pretty impressive for an event which has its humble origins in an understated lantern parade around the Barbican!

This year, Illuminate has certainly made a strong start towards achieving these goals, with the yard buzzing with hundreds of visitors on what was a truly memorable evening. We’ll certainly be along over the next few years and we won’t be missing the Mayflower400. Thanks for inviting us Martin!



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