Aberdeen’s festival of light SPECTRA returned this February with even more spectacular architectural projections, interactive sculptures, and experimental music. The event, organised by Aberdeen City Council, sees artists, thinkers, musicians and businesses coming together to leave the public speechless at the sight of our beautiful Granite City and its landmarks.
Come with us on a tour of SPECTRA Aberdeen’s light and sound exhibitions!
Stop 1: The Music Hall
Our SPECTRA journey starts on Union Street, in one of Scotland’s oldest and most historic performance venues: The Music Hall. For the occasion, the cultural centre turned into the exhibition space for Luke Jerram’s “Museum of the Moon” artwork. Floating at the centre of the dim-lit hall is a bright giant moon leaving all visitors in awe.
Observing the moon is an experience that has inspired artists and scientists for centuries and has always connected humanity. As such, seeing it so close and standing majestically in the heart of the granite city sparks a sense of community between every individual in the room. Strangers are laying down on the floor together underneath the artificial moon, making the hall their shared haven.
The music envelops the room in an eerie but dream-like atmosphere that makes you feel as if you have been transported away from the earth. The speakers also periodically play what seem like inaudible radio communications between astronauts. The whole experience feels like a journey into space, while still being comforted by the familiarity of Aberdeen’s cultural environment.
Stop 2: Aberdeen Art Gallery
Our second stop brings us to Aberdeen Art Gallery, where a similar experience awaits. There, you will find another one of Luke Jerram’s artwork: “Gaia”. In the middle of the room, a giant reproduction of our planet Earth is floating and orbiting on itself.
Unlike the previous exhibition, the surround sound is more hopeful here. The invigorating music blending with the voices of astronauts confessing their love for the planet reinforce the visitors’ feeling of admiration for the artwork.
Even more so than with the moon, standing so close to the Earth and looking at its entirety makes us feel even more connected to one another. Because of its proximity, the planet looks vulnerable and makes the viewer feel a sense of protection towards it. Visitors are gathering around the artwork, respectively standing away as if to not disturb it.
Stop 3: Look Again project space
Our next stop is at the Look Again project space, where the “PRISM” exhibition is taking place. Look Again is a creative group based at RGU‘s Gray’s School of Art with a mission to strengthen the creative sector in North East Scotland. Even though the exhibition doesn’t directly play with light, the experimental artworks using colours in different ways complement SPECTRA’s mission of bringing “light to the winter nights”.
The Look Again space exhibits the work of five local artists coming together as an occasional collective. Most of their artworks are sculptures using unusual materials, exploring spatial ambiguity or playing with perspectives and shadows. The exhibition is a chance to appreciate the artistic talent of our innovative local community.
Stop 4: Bon Accord Centre
The next exhibition takes place outside of the Bon Accord shopping centre, a bustling retailing area during the day. At the entrance, you can see a lit-up 3-dimension infinity mirror called the “Hypercube”. The creators, Travelling Light Circus, believe the mesmerising object to be the biggest cube of its kind in the world.
Parents and their children have their face glued to the cube, in awe of the moving LEDs patterns creating an endless string of lights. While waiting to get closer to the hypercube, you can gaze into the lights floating over your head. The festive mood enhances the magical atmosphere of Aberdeen at night.
Stop 5: Broad Street and Marischal College
Our next stop is on Broad Street, a pedestrian-priority space with the majestic Marischal College as its backdrop. The first exhibition sits outside, at the heart of the newly built, modern office spaces. The “Pendulum Wave Machine” is a mesmerising mechanical invention by the Travelling Light Circus. Visitors have to stand at each end of the machine and start a countdown. After that, a string of individual spheres is let loose and start swinging back and forth, switching between orderly and chaotic movements. The silver spheres seem even more magical as they are shimmering in different colours with the help of light projectors on the ground.
A few steps away, the audio-visual work “Six Frames” by the duo Illuminos is being played on Marischal College’s façade. The Aberdeen landmark is the second biggest granite building in the world and is a symbol of the city’s rich history. The video projects cascading drawings inspired by Sheena Blackhall’s poem “Twa Brigs Bussie”. Just like the poem, the animation takes viewers on a journey around Aberdeen, from the Bridge of Dee to the Justice Court and beyond. Visitors can also hear some Doric, the North East dialect, accompanying the projection. The work feels like a love letter to Aberdeen, celebrating its landmarks, local dialect and culture.
Finally, you will find the “Trumpet Flowers” by Amigo & Amigo standing in front of Marischal College. This giant musical garden makes visitors feel immensely small. But that doesn’t scare the families off. They are joyfully playing together, stepping on certain spots to light up the flowers and let some jazzy sound come out. In this magical garden, everyone becomes an artist.
Stop 6: Castlegate
Our last stop for the night is on Castlegate, at the end of Union Street. This part of the city is the former site of the medieval Aberdeen Castle, now home to Aberdeen’s Mercat Cross. As a place filled with history, it’s no surprise that this location was chosen for Lucid Create’s exhibition “Together”.
There, four pillars support three giant rings, creating an open space for audience members to come together. The seemingly weightless rings display stories of Aberdeen communities, opening opportunities for personal reflections. From recounts of historical football events such as Aberdeen’s win against Real Madrid in 1983 in Gothenburg, to personal anecdotes, the rings draw the viewer into a world where all our stories are connected. The sound coming from the open space drowns out the noise of the city and provides a feeling of safety.
Ultimately, the SPECTRA festival represents Aberdeen at its best. This is an opportunity for communities to gather around historical landmarks and celebrate our culture through artistic innovations. The Granite City is a vibrant social hub full of life and character. Sometimes all we need is some light to brighten up our long winter nights!