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  • Writer's pictureMonique Sliedrecht

Art in the Harbour

On Friday evening my friend and I went to see the light display at Wick Harbour, suddenly realising there were only a few more days left of the long planned Northern Lights Festival, part of Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21.

I didn’t know what to expect, though I had seen a few photos online. My experience ended up being something different than what I imagined and the walk along the piers was a truly magical escapade.

On arrival in the harbour, we walked up to a view of four large tanks, normally white, now all lit up with photos from the Johnston Collection. Recordings of Caithness voices were playing in the background, mixed with a selection of music to enhance the evening display, including a song by local band Neon Waltz, All in Good Time, first recorded at Freswick Castle, just north of Wick and along the coast.

The light projections were so well placed and the night so clear; the installations were like an extension of the night sky - it was thrilling. I was happy to be there and to run into people as well, chatting in the fresh autumn evening air. It seemed the perfect occasion after such a year. Speaking to Tom, one of the key organisers from Lyth Art Centre, he mentioned that the festival had to be cancelled numerous times. Somehow, though, I think this was an ideal season and the perfect time for it to happen.

While I wish I had taken my better camera with me, the art stays imprinted on my mind, and for the rest, the few photos taken on my mobile phone will have to do!

We walked a little further, always turning a corner to a lit surprise - a written text of the names of islands coming up against the pier walls as though emerging from the sea, projections on a house high up at the top of the black stairs and next to a view of the whole harbour down below…. A glass fish mosaic lit up on the wall at the memorial garden…

I said to my friend who was with me, ‘I wish these places could be lit up all year round!’ It is amazing how light transforms a place.

The show is down now, sadly. But maybe it will encourage something new at Christmas time, or other seasons of the year. It woke that wonderful harbour up, and made those of us that were there all the more in tune with the richness of the history, the memory of past times of sailors and boats at sea, the sense of community with people walking around looking and chatting. The fortunes of Wick Harbour have been rising in recent years, with many good developments, but this remarkable artistic 'happening' brought a feeling of renewed pride in this special and once vibrant and famous harbour town in the north of Scotland.

Life is hardly one dimensional, and the Northern Lights festival event brought that combination of history, light, colour and rootedness through the site-specific installations. It brought opportunity for art and community to come together in a very accessible way.

To me it clearly shows the power of art. Art binds people to place and to each other.

‘Engaging with art is not simply a solitary event. The arts and culture represent one of the few areas in our society where people can come together to share an experience even if they see the world in radically different ways. The important thing is not that we agree about the experience that we share, but that we consider it worthwhile sharing an experience at all.’

'The encounter with art – and with others over art – can help us identify with one another, expand our notions of we, and show us that individual engagement in the world has actual consequences.' -Artist, Olafur Eliasson

'Art binds. Culture generates social capital and strengthens a community’s character. Art brings people together physically — at galleries, museums, performance spaces — and culturally, through its capacity to tell a community’s shared story, to inspire reflection, and form connections that transcend differences.' (Albert Ibargüen, for the 3rd Annual Symposium of the National Museum of American History). This was all too evident in Wick Harbour during this Festival.

Hats off to Tom and Charlotte and Lyth Arts Centre and all those involved. It was a very special occasion. I only wish I could have gone twice!

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