Bristol Light Festival 2024: Our Top 10 rankingPosted on: 05 Feb 2024
Bristol Light Festival is back in the city to light up the cold, dark February nights - literally and metaphorically. They're all wonderful exhibitions in their own way, but with the route taking potentially up to an hour or more to complete, and the weather as unpredictable as ever, you might want to just pick out the highlights.
Luckily, we're here to give you the ranked list of all the exhibitions - with exclusive photos to give you an idea of what you might be in for!
Not dissimilar to last year's "overheard in Bristol series", this work by London-based artist Real Hackney Dave certainly helps to pretty up the muted corporate area around Valentine Bridge - even if it is mystifying why the piece has been installed to the side of the bridge rather than arching over it. Add that to an earnest expression of Bristol pride, and BiAaGI certainly has it's good points.
Unfortunately, with the competition as stiff as it is, there's an argument to be made that a simple glowing phrase doesn't make the best use of light as a medium as other pieces might. Equally, it might be said that the piece itself might be slightly uninspired, especially considering this is just another entry in a series of the same phrase applied to different places around the UK.
Swing Song is a classic of Bristol Light Festival, having featured in the last two editions of the festival as well, and it's no wonder - who doesn't love a good swing? The concept of an evolving music track controlled by the nature of swinging is a really exciting one, and definitely 'in tune' with Bristol's penchant for experimental music.
As always, however, returns can diminish, and it's hard to justify visiting Swing Song again and again each year when there are so many new and exciting exhibitions vying for your attention. Plus, as interesting as Swing Song's musical premise is - this is Bristol Light Festival, not Bristol Sound Festival, and the work with light just isn't there.
The great, iridescent orbs of Evanescent are a great figurehead for what you might expect from a BLF installation - alien, colourful and beautiful in a strange and enchanting way. Well-placed on College Green, they play off the nighttime lights of the City Hall, and from some angles align perfectly with the towers of Bristol Cathedral.
This isn't the first time we've seen light-up inflatable art at BLF, however, so it loses a few points on the originality score - there's also something quite frustrating about how uninteractive these tempting spheres are.
By the same team as Evanescent, the Sydney-based Atelier Sisu, Elysian hits much the same points as Evanescent - however, the more unusual form is a little more intriuging, and whilst it's not much more interactive than Evanescent, there's something to be said for walking in and through the massive arches that make up the piece.
Emergence is likely one of the first pieces you'll encounter, depending on how you approach the trail, and it's a good foot forward for the festival. Eye-catchingly unusual from the outside - it sits in the middle of Broadmead like a sci-fi hedgehog. Once you enter Emergence, it unfolds into much more - a light and sound piece that follows a looping journey as you spy out the strange mirrored window-holes at the shops around you.
It does fill up quick though, and it can be hard to appreciate the piece when you're constantly dodging around the thick stream of people pouring in and out of its tight entrances and exits. Equally, the placement is questionable - with such an opportunity to frame the world outside Emergence, why exactly they chose that world to consist of Metro Bank and the Vodafone shop is a mystery.
Wildlight is the poster child of this year's festival - a celebration of the BBC's local Natural History Unit, Wildlight projects footage from a range of celebrated BBC nature docs (heavy on the Attenborough, of course) onto a projection screen in front of the LHG brewpub. It's a touching tribute to one of Bristol's greatest cultural strengths, and one of the most extensive and involving pieces in the festival - from escaped dolphins down the side of the canal wall, and a jungle taking over the side street by Bocabar.
It's a great piece, although it gets weaker when they lean harder on the main screen rather than the more immersive building projections.
Pulse, also by Emergence artists This Is Loop, is on the simpler side of exhibits, but a real masterclass in how to pull off that simplicity. Evoking sci-fi masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Insterstellar, Pulse creates an otherworldly tunnel of light that, on the night I visited, extended to the rain-slick bricks below my feet.
Isolated from the bustle of the rest of town in Lloyd's Amphitheatre, it creates a surreal and contemplative space. If you think you get it already though, don't be so sure - Pulse has a few more visual tricks up its sleeve than just shifting colours.
I always have a fondness for the more inventive, charming exhibitions of BLF - like 2022's Chirp & Drift - and if there was a special award for that category, it would go to Nectary - a floral piece from artist Alison Smith and Dr. Chris Hassall, lecturer in Animal Biology. Strange, delicate looking flowers that have been slightly unceremoniously stuffed into a corner of Queen's Square, Nectary nonetheless is a delightful and crucially interactive exhibit. The light-up flowers look gorgeous, clearly having had real work put into them, and they sway with the wind and gentle knocks of passerby.
Perhaps the best part of Nectary is popping your head inside and being immersed in a glowing floral world for a moment, listening to the strangely calming buzzing of bees as it's played back through the tubes of the flower - or it might be watching that phenomenon from the outside.
The Unfolding, a collaboration between SLX and the Light Festival itself, is worth visiting purely for the chance to visit the usually locked-off ruins of Temple Church - a beautiful setting in itself.
The piece itself, however, is worth it too - an unfolding light show that keeps you guessing, almost reconstructing the church with pillars and walls of light, and enchanting the viewer with will-o-wisp like spots that seem to take a life of their own in the air. Complete with an uplifiting and spellbounding soundtrack of the same name from Bristol-based Beacon favourites Paraorchestra, the Unfolding is not one to miss.
There has to be a winner on a list like this, and this year it has to be Ascendance, this year's submission from husband-and-wife duo Studio McGuire. Previously wowing the crowd with innovative and beautiful exhibitions like Ophelia and Sirens, they've done it yet again. Ascendance is a gorgeous and sorrowful piece that sees an astronaut set adrift through space, beginning with the black and starry night, before drifting through increasingly surreal tableaus of flowers and other colourful, incongrous reminders of life on earth.
Projected onto a sheer sheet suspended between the grand pillars of St. Stephen's Church, Ascendance appears to be drifting, vision-like, in the middle of the church space. It invites you to quite literally take a pew and immerse yourself in a cinematic journey that is first terrifying, then sorrowful, then movingly jubliant. If you visit one piece this year, make it Ascendance.
Patrick is a filmmaker with so much Bristol in his blood the white blood cells are graffiti'd. Educated at the Northern Film School in Leeds, he’s returned home to be a Videographer and Reviewer for 365Bristol and BARBI. When he’s not messing about with cameras, he enjoys playing guitar, spending far too much time on tabletop RPGs, and being an awful snob about cider. Have a look at his work here, or get in touch at email@example.com.