Festival review: Spectra, various venues, Aberdeen

The 2024 Spectra festival seems to be more of a direct response to its home city than in previous years, writes Susan Mansfield

Spectra Festival, various venues, Aberdeen ****

From modest beginnings, Aberdeen’s Spectra festival – dubbed Scotland’s Festival of Light – is now ten years old and draws thousands of visitors to the city centre at a time when businesses need a boost and everyone needs cheering up.

Recent iterations have the made the city into a mecca for interactive light installations which tour festivals around the world. This year, however, there is a greater sense that elements of Spectra have been crafted to respond to Aberdeen, and to embrace its homegrown arts community.

Winds of Change by Henrich & Palmer PIC: Ian GeorgesonWinds of Change by Henrich & Palmer PIC: Ian Georgeson
Winds of Change by Henrich & Palmer PIC: Ian Georgeson
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The festival has commissioned artist duo Heinrich & Palmer to make Winds of Change, an impressive, atmospheric film installation shown in the sculpture court of Aberdeen Art Gallery, which explores the city’s industrial transitions from fishing to oil and to renewables. It also raises the tricky subject of energy, which is more directly addressed on Broad Street where Paths for All invite visitors to help power the artwork by cycling.

Works such as the projection by Double Take on the façade of His Majesty’s Theatre, and Flora Litchfield’s Lightstream in Marischal College Quad, draw on local stories, and St Nicholas Kirk is illuminated by local light and sound designers LEM. Look Again, based at Gray’s School of Art, has commissioned 10 artists with Aberdeen connections to make augmented reality work for a new programme strand, Northern Lights, discoverable via QR code and smartphone.

In many of the other pieces, interaction is key: visitors can wander among free-hanging chains of lights in Squidsoup’s Submergence, or among mirrored “sonic monoliths” in Continuum’s Illumaphonium. Affinity, by Amigo & Amigo, lights up in response to touch, apparently mimicking patterns of connectivity in the human brain.

But perhaps all light is, to some extent, interactive. Anne Bennet’s Butterfly Dream, in the Art Gallery’s Remembrance Hall, is delicate and poignant, and Studio Vertigo’s two projects were delightful: Spin Me A Yarn, a giant ball of wool, and Our Beating Heart, a mirrorball heart which throbs as it casts clouds of dappled light on the ancient walls of Provost Skene’s House.

Until 11 February

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