E/T/C UK’s Ross Ashton designed a specially commissioned projection artwork for Durham Cathedral as part of the 4 day “Lumière” Durham Festival of Light event, curated and co-ordinated by Artichoke.
Ashton’s work, “Crown of Light”, covered the entire North fascia of the Cathedral including all sides of the 3 towers, and was the largest installation of the Festival, and arguably also the biggest cathedral projection to date in the UK. Durham Cathedral dates back to 1093 and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the country. It is a designated UNESCO world Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle which faces it across Palace Green.
Ashton received an initial brief from Artichoke’s Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb about the narrative and direction of the show. Taking these as a creative starting point for the storyboard, he then input and developed his own ideas.
The story encompassed the history of the Cathedral including the Lindesfarne Gospels, noted for their amazing accompanying imagery and spectacular Celtic calligraphy. These were originated by the Lindesfarne Monks and stored in Durham Cathedral for many years, along with the bones of St Cuthbert which still reside there. Ashton’s piece also explored the building as an architectural space and its relationship with and historical significance to the City.
He and Paul Chatfield evolved the PIGI projection artwork over a period of 2 weeks, simultaneously collaborating with musical director Robert Ziegler who compiled a soundscape for the 16 minute show, and sound designer John Del’Nero who designed the audio system. Ashton used material sourced from the British Library and also conducted a photo shoot at the Cathedral to capture all the architectural and structural elements he wanted to incorporate into the show.
The projection system utilized 7 x PIGI 6KW machines with double rotating scrollers, positioned at various distances around the Cathedral – the longest throw distance was 150 metres and the shortest just 20 metres. This was meticulously calculated to eliminate any shadowing from the numerous trees dotted around the Cathedral Gardens – and was also one of the major creative and technical challenges of the project.
The 7 projectors were in 6 different positions, fitted with 5 different types of lens, ranging from a 10cm wide angle lens to an 85cm long throw lens. The 7 different positions each covered a separate zone of the Cathedral’s architecture.
The PIGI film scrolls were all approximately 15 metres in length, and the PIGI artwork was assembled and pre-corrected for perspective and keystoning in Photoshop. The show was programmed into E/T/C’s PC-based OnlyCue controller and operated by Karen Monid. It featured some fabulously smooth movement dissolves, transitions and other subtleties for which the OnlyCue and PIGI combination is known and loved.
Ashton comments, “It was a huge honour to be asked to create and present this piece. Durham is one of the country’s signature Cathedrals – it’s a wonderful site with a fabulously rich history and is a very special location in which to work”.
The E/T/C London crew of Richard Porter and Michael Barry started rigging the projectors on the Tuesday ready for a Thursday night opening. The PIGI’s were all housed in custom weatherised hides also supplied by E/T/C.
This show – which ran 8 times nightly – and the other Lumiere installations involving over 50 UK and international artists, proved a massive success, drawing up to 75,000 people into the City Centre each evening despite some appalling weather! Collectively, they created an imaginative and stimulating environment for the enjoyment and engagement of people of all ages, interests and backgrounds. The Festival of Light will now become a regular event for Durham
Ross Ashton is also designing projection artworks for the forthcoming St Andrew’s Festival of Light in Scotland at the end of November, and has recently completed installations for the 2009 Pittsburg Festival of Light in the US and Rheinpartie 2009 in Germany. In January, he is presenting another special commission for the Closing Ceremony of Cambridge 800, an event that has celebrated the 800th anniversary of the University.