A rainbow made out of light balls for the light project
#News    10/05/2019

How light art transforms cities and public spaces

Light Art: what is it? In short, it’s a form of art in which light is the main medium of expression – the “star” of the show, so to speak. That means that many different art forms appear in the category of Light Art, ranging from large-scale digital light projections and light painting to interactive light-based installations and 3D light sculptures. 

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at interactive lighting installations and 3D light sculptures in particular, and how light art can be used to enhance public spaces, bring a city’s history to life, and bring people together for reasons as diverse as entertainment, education, and unadulterated joy in light.

Light art in public spaces: not a new thing

The popularity of light as art in public spaces seems new but it’s not. In fact, but there is a long history of lighting public spaces to create displays to delight visitors: “Gas-lit Paris” was proclaimed the world’s first “city of light” as long ago as the 1800s.

The 1900s saw the rise of neon and fluorescent lighting, which became synonymous with advertising in the early part of the century, sometimes turning public spaces into light-filled attractions in their own right around the world. The bright lights of New York had to include a trip to the lights of Time Square, and a visit to London meant a trip to Piccadilly Circus to soak up the atmosphere in a neon glow.

Light art became recognized as an art form in the late 20th century, but it’s only in the last 20-25 years that light art has been used in cities and public spaces, the last decade or so has brought about significant changes and innovation in the field. This is largely thanks to the availability of LEDs and a range of new technologies that started life in the 1990s and that are now coming to maturation, like programmable RGB technology, digital projection systems, LED video screens and sound-to-light systems.

How light and art, light art and interactive light installations transform public spaces

As a medium, light can be used in many different ways.

Light and art can change the perspective of a city

Combining light and art or light and architecture fills a city with atmosphere and gives visitors an opportunity to view a space in a whole new way.

Adding light sculptures can enhance urban spaces by turning them into desirable places to visit and making spaces large and small feel safe, welcoming, and interesting.

Light art can become an iconic symbol of a city or space

Public art can become inextricably linked with city or space, and over time, some artworks become local landmarks that are instantly recognizable in a city and indeed, the world. Lorenzo Quinn’s “Support” has become a viral image of Venice, Italy; Paul Landowski’s Christ the Redeemer  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been a cultural icon for both the city and country since the 1930s; and  Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s “Liberty Enlightening the World”— known to most as the Statue of Liberty — is both a symbolic representation of New York,  and of the value of freedom held dear in the United States.

Light art and light sculptures are equally iconic and can be used to tap into historical events, bring local highlights to the attention of visitors, and bring important cultural experiences and values to life. Great examples include the light sculpture of Tuffi, an elephant who leaped into the Wupper River in the 1950s; and the family of moose walking through Stockholm’s city center in Sweden.

Light art can give the local economy a boost

Public art can enhance a city, but a city filled with light, art, AND light art becomes something truly special. In fact, the combination of light and art can help urban spaces create temporary or permanent visitor attractions that are not only popular with local residents, but with visitors from elsewhere, too.

More visitors generally means more spend per head, which in turn gives the local economy a boost – and that goes a long way to benefiting not only local businesses but the local community, too.

Light art in the City of Koper in Slovenia in 2018, for example, helped to generate around 350,000 visitors over the winter, typically their “quiet season”.

In Salerno, Italy, the seaside city became a winter attraction thanks to filling 27km of its streets and urban spaces with light art, and in 2013, it reported that coaches filled with visitors increased by 140% from the launch of its light art extravaganza, “Luci d’Artista”.

And in Germany, Huckelhofen’s “Haldenzauber” light park, filled with light art and interactive lighting installations, generated a phenomenal 45.000 visitors in its first year, which had the knock-on effect of sending visitors to Hückelhoven, too.

Interactive light art can bring people together

Human touch and real-life connection is part of being human, and interactive light art can not only help urban spaces tear people away from their screens and get them out into cities, but it can also help to bring people together and connect people across generations.

In China, Ruihong Tiandi’s “Tree of Hopelights up and begins to “sing” when people move towards it. The more people there are, the more light and sound fills the space, which encourages evens strangers to make eye contact and collaborate as they experiment with the tree’s interactive features.

In Denmark, the Tree of Love at Tivoli Friheden encourages visitors to hold hands and press two panels to make a walk-through tree light up and play music, connecting visitors of all ages as they experience the interactivity together.

Light art can shine a light on local highlights and cultural celebrations

Whether you want to use your public spaces to bring people together to celebrate a local festivity like Chinese New Year; to raise awareness about local attractions; or home in on a regional feature, light art, light sculptures, and interactive light art displays can be used to great effect.

Key points

Public art is widely understood to have many benefits that contribute to the quality of urban experiences and light art shares those benefits.

The right light art can:

  • Help to improve the perception of a space, making it feel safer, more modern, and more desirable as a place in which to spend time
  • Create a sense of identity, uniqueness, and civic pride in locals, and make the city or public space more visible and attractive to outside visitors
  • Celebrate place, historical heritage, and local characteristics
  • Transform any space into a place where locals and visitors, friends and family, come together to share an experience that spans multiple generations
  • Give the local economy a boost thanks to increased visitor numbers over time

Imagine what your city would look like if it was filled with light art

If you can imagine it, we can create it. With local teams in over 40 countries and 23 years of experience of designing, producing, and installing light, light art, and 3D light sculptures, we have the know-how to help you transform your city.

Get in touch with us and let’s explore the possibilities!

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