THOUSANDS turned out at the weekend to see Connecting Light, one of the most ambitious and challenging projects of the Cultural Olympiad.
Billed as a line of pulsating colours stretching the 73-mile length of Hadrian’s Wall, it cost £300,000 and comprised 400 tethered balloons lit internally by LED lights.
At the official launch on Friday night at the Roman Army Museum at Greenhead, Cumbria, Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, told an invited audience she had been overjoyed to read the submission by the New York art collective YesYesNo and its representative Zach Lieberman, who duly won the commission.
“His ideas fitted so closely with how we wanted to portray Hadrian’s Wall,” she said. A structure built by the Romans to keep different peoples apart was transformed by Connecting Light into a modern means of communication.
An example of artists using cutting edge technology, the balloons of Connecting Light were illuminated by people from around the world sending messages via the artwork’s website.
Message senders could choose from the full colour spectrum and global positioning technology established which balloon would flash a response.
Up on Walltown Crags early on Friday night, some of the hundreds of volunteers were putting the finishing touches to the balloons in the vicinity.
In the fading light you could see them for what they were, inflated white beachballs on scaffolding poles, their technical wizardry hidden from view.
As darkness fell and the messages started coming, the balloons started to flash – red, yellow, green, violet and all shades in between.
Driving back along the B6318, Military Road, it was clear the artwork had generated another ribbon of light as people took to their cars for the best view.
It was difficult to drive and scan the landscape but the road into Heddon-on-the-Wall was so alive with flashing colours that it was easy to imagine, 50 years ago, it might have sparked an alien invasion scare.
I returned on Saturday night to Vallum Farm on the Military Road where there was an air of quiet excitement as people took photos and followed the line of lights through a grassy field.
It was a reminder that all 120 of the landowners with a stake in Hadrian’s Wall had supported the project, along with many business people along its length.
At Greenhead on Friday the artwork was hailed by Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, as the product of “an amazing journey”, along with other dramatic projects in places as far-flung as Stonehenge and the Shetland islands.
“I think it’s wonderful to remind people that we have Hadrian’s Wall, one of the wonders of the world,” she said.
As she was filmed by a TV crew from China, you could see that this message would indeed travel far and wide.