A dazzling light event utilising supersized projectors and over 100,000 images brought the façade of the Victorian town hall of St Helens, Liverpool (UK) to life in December 2018.
The work entitled ‘We Are Still Here’, was created by internationally renowned multi-media artist Simon McKeown and his team, who worked with ten learning disabled artists to create the work. Using high tech projection mapping technology, sophisticated audio, the thirty-minute public artwork transformed the building and the city centre with a riot of colour, moving image and sound in a one-off never to be repeated spectacular light event.
Heart of Glass (HoG), one of Britain’s most successful public and collaborative art agencies, commissioned artist Simon McKeown in 2016 with a mission to create an ambitious, massive collaborative outdoor light spectacle, with the support of St Helens Council, disability arts festival DaDaFest and Teesside University, where Mckeown is a Reader.
The commissioned artwork produced Mckeown and his team was vital to the overall success of ‘We Are Still Here’. This outdoor live light event culminated the 150th-anniversary celebrations of the formation of St Helens and celebrated the ending of its role of Liverpool City Region’s Borough of Culture, an exciting year-long programme which acclaimed the town’s culture, creativity and community. It also valorised the contribution of disabled people to the history and culture of St Helens.
HoG commissioned disabled artist Mckeown with the aims that the project should be led and made be by disabled people and should offer an exemplary in collaboration, creative practice and state of the art digital light experimentation. Working on the principle of co-production with the community and the active participation of the collaborator, Mckeown developed lasting partnerships, including with Buzz Hub, St Helens Coalition of Disabled People affecting practice, opportunity and ambition.
HoG approached Mckeown during 2016 to commission a large-scale light event. As an artist he brought his lived experience of disability and knowledge of Disability Art; an important artistic statement given the civic partners. Creatively and technically skilled he is unafraid of scale and works with some of the UK’s most experienced event engineers and digital technicians. Complex on-site tests followed supported by St Helens Council leading to an event date of the 8th of December 2018. Collaboration was central to the work and Mckeown, supported by Emily Gee of HoG, led a series of creative workshops with learning disabled members of Buzz Hub. Stop frame animations, drawings, green screen and shadow puppetry emerged from studios, material that directly contributed to or informed the final work. HoG further collaborated with schools to devise a lantern trail leading people from the town centre to the town hall in supporting the colourful street performers and festive atmosphere. Inside the town hall an exhibition of workshop work featuring the BuzzHub group, Gee and Mckeown, was displayed as part of the overall event. A dedicated team of volunteers assisted in deliver St Helen's nighttime light extravaganza.
‘We Are Still Here’ built on Mckeown’s earlier massive outdoor light project ‘Cork Ignite’ which involved multiple partners in Cork, Ireland including host, The National Sculpture Factory. Mckeown spent two years working with local disabled artists devising the event. Supported by fifty volunteers, this ambitious light show was viewed by an audience of ten thousand on the 15th of September 2015 as the culminating event of Culture Night.
In his work Mckeown seeks to illuminate large city spaces, aiming to reveal new relational understandings and to create positive outdoor city spaces where art and disability collide.
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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