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Laser Light City

This year, Light Night Leeds presents a series of spectacular socially-distanced events across autumn and winter. It kicks off with Laser Light City, an incredible interactive laser show – check it out!

For three nights only, 24 lasers will shoot into the sky as part of an awe-inspiring installation you control…

An annual night of illumination and wonder, Light Night has earned its place in the city’s event calendar, but this year will be a little different. They’re presenting a series of unmissable installations that you can enjoy without the crowds. The highlight is Laser Light City, an incredible interactive light show that will take over seven of the most iconic buildings in Leeds from Thursday 22nd to Saturday 24th October 2020. Not only can you see the lasers from miles around, but you will be able to control how they act and what they look like. This incredible spectacle kicks off a season of events that will help keep your spirits up through autumn and winter.

It almost never happened

Spirit Owl

Credit: Graham Fotherby

Light Night is a Leeds institution, but the pandemic almost knocked it out completely. The team was redeployed to help with the community response to Covid-19, Arts Council funding was redistributed to support the sector and the uncertainty of the pandemic meant the usual festival simply couldn’t go ahead. But even that didn’t stop them.

“We were prepared at one point to accept that we weren’t going to be able to do anything, but Light Night Leeds is one of those things that people have in their calendar, that they look forward to, so we wanted to do something,” Abbe Robinson, Principal Arts Project Officer at Leeds City Council, explained. “And what we were able to do is very much thanks to our sponsors.”

They were already working with Seb Lee-Delisle, a BAFTA-winning artist, presenter and coder who uses the latest technology to make large-scale interactive light installations, so they asked him to come up with some ideas for a pandemic-friendly installation. The result was Laser Light City – a huge light installation that will dominate the Leeds skyline.

“Seb came up with this plan to take Light Night Leeds up into the skies. Not on the ground where people needed to gather in a particular place, but on rooftops across the city, so people could see them from miles around,” Abbe told us. “And even if we were back in full lockdown, and nobody could go anywhere, you’d still be able to engage with it via a live stream from your own home and take control of it. That was the bit that excited us the most, that interactivity, that ability to take control of the lasers using your smartphone.”

A spectacular display visible from miles around

Laser Light City

Laser Light City, which will take over Leeds from Thursday 22nd to Saturday 24th October 2020, is one of the most ambitious installations Light Night has ever seen. Seb has sourced the biggest, most powerful lasers around. They’re 30 watts, which may not sound like a lot, but actually, your average laser pointer is only half a milliwatt, which makes Seb’s lasers 60,000 times stronger. He’s installing them on seven buildings across the city, so you can see it from far and wide – in fact, they’ll be visible from up to 9 miles away.

“I wanted to create an installation that would work, no matter what lockdown level we were on. And of course, in order to do that, I ended up having to go bigger and more spectacular than I’ve ever gone before,” Seb told us. “There are going to be seven different sites around the city and 24 powerful lasers mounted on roofs, or in some cases, projecting out of windows, just filling the skies with laser beams.”

Wellington Place, Merrion House, Platform, The Majestic, Victoria Leeds Car Park and the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds will all have three lasers, while Bridgewater Place will have six all to itself. And because they’re spread so far and wide, you can create your own viewpoint and choose where you want to watch from – be it the suburbs, your own home via their live stream or anywhere you can see the city centre from.

Wait, it gets better, because you can interact with it from anywhere too. “I’m not the kind of artist who wants to project my will on anyone else, I’d much prefer to create systems that let people produce the art themselves – so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve set up this web system, so you can control the laser beams.” You can change the colour, move it around and even play with different effects. Want to turn your laser into a cone of light? No problem. Fancy splitting it into multiple beams? Your wish is the laser’s command.

There are four more installations to look forward to


Credit: Ken Pumford

Laser Light City is the first and the biggest event of the festival, but it’s not the only one. Spirit Owl, an LED artwork by Frederic Post launched at last year’s event, is still on display, giving you one last chance to see the owl of Leeds used as a power for good, protecting those who gaze upon it. The display will remain in place on Call Lane until Thursday 31st December 2020.

Over at Leeds Dock, Asociatia Daisler’s I MISS YOU will be revealed on Friday 30th October 2020. A simple message that can be interpreted in so many ways – missing friends, family and loved ones, but also the art and culture that’s missing from our new normal – it sits in the middle of the River Aire, reflecting its message into the waters below. It’s part of a larger series that will see the same words, written in different languages, installed in cities across Europe. You can stop by to see it any time until New Year’s Eve.

Further down the waterfront, at 2 Water Lane, Neon Workshops have a work of art that will launch on 26th November 2020 and stay in place until next year. Like the rainbows in our windows during lockdown, GLORY is a symbol of hope in the darkness. It’s an artistic recreation of a full rainbow, which when viewed from space, is a perfect circle. They worked with a group of young people from Leeds to create this stunning, large-scale piece.

Last, but not least, is Faint Signals, an online artwork commissioned by the British Library. Working with interactive arts studio Invisible Flock, they’ve turned their vast archive of digital nature sounds into a unique piece of art. Set in an imagined Yorkshire landscape, you can explore a world of sounds and abstract images, taken from the real world and reimagined. Due to launch on Tuesday 10th November, this online installation will bring the outdoors indoors, just as we all start to shy away from the cold weather.

Please enjoy Light Night Leeds responsibly

Light Night Leeds are asking that people enjoy the event responsibly. Please make sure you observe social distancing and do not gather in groups with anyone outside your household. If you are at home and watching via the livestream to enjoy Laser Light City, please be aware there may be a few seconds delay between using the controls and seeing the result, depending on the strength of your internet connection. It is recommended to operate the interface with your smartphone and watch the livestream on your computer. Cover image credit: Keith Craven