Following the success of last year’s inaugural light trail, the award-winning visitor experience is again opening its gates after dark to share the stunning transformation of its 180-acre arboretum site near Romsey with a series of light art installations by international artists and leading designers. The artwork is made possible by lasers and fibre optics and Phd students in Photonics will be meeting visitors to explain the science of light and how it fits into the modern world.
“The light art looks amazing and the creativity involved in making it is rightly recognised but without the science, the physics and optical engineering, it might never be able to leave the artist’s imagination,” explains Dr Pearl John, Public Engagement Leader in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton.
“So, to have scientists at arts events such as Light Up Trails is really important to us. We want to engage with young people who are yet to even recognise the science in what they’re seeing.”
Light Up Trails has partnered with the University of Southampton’s dazzling student-led Light Express Roadshow to visit a local school in December and the insights it provides only add to the enjoyment of the light trail, according to directors Libby Battaglia and Lucinda Croft.
“The artists and designers we work with at Light Up Trails are absolutely brilliant, but so are the scientists and technologists who enable their work,” they say.
“Light Up Sir Harold Hillier Gardens at Christmas is made up of wonderful, beautiful, immersive moments – the stuff that lifelong happy memories are made of – so to find out something about how and why they work has totally blown us away!”
Light art designer James Smith, whose work is at the heart of Light Up Sir Harold Hillier Gardens At Christmas, says light artists would be unable to realise their work without utilising the advances made in science and technology.
“My background is in maths, physics and chemistry and it’s all there in the art I make and the designs I create,” he explains. “Artists are storytellers and light art is all about telling stories using reflection and refraction, but artists also have a keen understanding of science and technology. Without maths and physics and engineering the ideas would never come off the computer screen.
“Mixing colours, for instance, is only possible because science enables art as it always has done. That is very obviously true where light art and projection is concerned, but it’s nothing new. Essentially, what we do with Light Up Sir Harold Hillier Gardens At Christmas is take theatre outside at night and since the very earliest days of theatre, science has played a part in helping artists tell stories.”
The University of Southampton has an international reputation as a leader in Photonics founded on the invention of the erbium-doped fibre amplifier by Professor Sir David Payne and his team in 1987.
“In simple terms, it’s an amplifier that boosts the signal as it travels through the fibres that carry the internet around the world,” explains Dr John. “It’s a vital part of the internet and without that technology we would not be able to do the things we can today.
“Photonics is central to our world, it is an enabling technology, from arts and media to manufacturing and engineering, yet we have a skills shortage in that there are not enough physicists and optical engineers coming through even though there are plenty of jobs – and some very well paid jobs – in this field.”
Light Up Sir Harold Hillier Gardens At Christmas is a magical walk under the stars with the magnificent collections of trees and rare plants illuminated by millions of LED lights in a series of spectacular light art installations.
Highlights include the premiere of an exciting new work by The Projection Studio, specialists in creating art on an architectural scale at locations all over the world, that tells the story of the pine Christmas Tree; and Radiant Grove, a captivating installation that transports its audience into a realm of vividly coloured laser beams, mirrors and pulsating rave dance music. This immersive experience creates a dynamic and sensory-rich environment that envelops visitors in digital light and sound.
Light Up Sir Harold Hillier Gardens At Christmas places the accent on festive fun for the whole family with a host of selfie opportunities at installations such as Written in the Stars, where visitors can send their messages to a large LED screen in the air surrounded by stars, and Winter Wonderland, a large-scale reindeer scene opposite the Oak Field.
And with an expanded menu of amazing food and drink from around the world, including a wide range of vegetarian and vegan choices, as well as mulled wine, warm cider and hot chocolate, it’s a feast for mind, body and soul.