North-east heritage provides inspiration for ‘Northern Lights’ spectacular at Spectra 2024

Spectra festival 2023 opening night. (Photo- Ian Georgeson, copyright Aberdeen City Council).

WITH three weeks to go until Aberdeen’s multi award-winning festival of light and sound, SPECTRA, preparations are well under way for this year’s event which runs from February 8 – 11.

The North-east’s culture and heritage is providing inspiration for many of the artists commissioned by Look Again at Gray’s School of Art, to deliver a specially created augmented reality wonderland, called ‘Northern Lights’, that will premiere as part of the SPECTRA 2024 programme.

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Local artist, Craig Barrowman, in collaboration with ten commissioned artists with a connection to the North-east have been selected to create digital pieces which will each illuminate Aberdeen city centre during the festival and provide a fun and rewarding interactive side to the programme.

Gray’s alumna, Gianni Esporas, who is originally from Portlethen, has created artwork inspired by the historic customs of the North-east fishing industry. 

She said: “My project for the Northern Light’s commission expands on the customs around fishing in Portlethen, which is where I grew up. Since there were no harbours, the fisher wives would carry their husbands out into the boats so they could set out into sea with dry clothes. The illustrations that I found during my research were so absurd!

“I felt it would be interesting to bring some of these historic customs about the North East into this commission. I don’t believe many of these cultures are widely known, and to transform them into a virtual experience for people to engage with, is really exciting. It’s been really refreshing to play with a blend of 2D animations and 3D objects, the last time I was experimenting like this was for the degree show in 2021! I hope visitors will enjoy finding out more about the historic customs of the fishing industry and its importance to the region.”

“I loved being involved in the Northern Lights project. I’ve always made work about my Filipino heritage, so this is the first time I’ve made work about growing up in Scotland. It felt like a homecoming project for me. I currently live in Glasgow, so this has been the longest time I’ve been away from Aberdeen and I’m excited to come back and see how it all comes together!”

Sarah Buchan, a Motion Designer from Aberdeen, has also been commissioned by Look Again as part of ‘Northern Lights’ spectacular. With an interest in Scottish and North-east history Sarah has created a circular glass structure reminiscent of a Hag Stone and incorporated a time-lapse video of the city into her work.

She said: “My project draws inspiration from Hag stones with a futuristic twist. These stones, also known as “Gloine nan Druidh” or “Druids’ glass”, have a natural hole that allows one to see into other worlds. In traditional folklore they were thought to ward off witches and I was inspired by the hag stones found in usually on the coast. Visitors to Spectra will be able to see a geometric ring of glass that reflects a northern light’s scene that they can walk around and explore using AR technology.”

As a long-time fan of immersive experiences, I was thrilled to be selected as an artist for the Northern Lights Commission. It is amazing how these events bring people together to enjoy for free a spectacular festival. Look Again and Gray’s has really impacted the creative sector in Aberdeen and the North of Scotland, particularly emerging creatives.” 

“3D animator and RGU alumna, Si Knox from Aberdeen, plans to bring Union Terrace Gardens to live with an augmented 3D leopard. Speaking about his work Si said: “My project is about the changing landscape of the city reflected through its coat of arms leopard. The city constantly changes with time and culture, so does the leopard. I love that Look again is involved with it, as it lets lesser-known artists get an opportunity to feature with bigger artists, which would not be possible without them.”

Look Again Creative Director, Sally Reaper, said: “Bringing culture and life to Aberdeen’s city centre at Spectra is vital to our city’s prosperity. It’s important for us to create opportunities for emerging artists to platform and showcase their talent alongside more established artists in Aberdeen. By supporting them and working with partners to enhance the sustainability of the region’s creative sector and wider economy, we are attracting talent back to the area that traditionally may have headed off to the central belt or further afield for similar creative opportunities.

“The North-east has a rich cultural heritage that has significantly influenced Aberdeen’s identity and has inspired many of the artists involved with the Northern Lights project. With three weeks to go until SPECTRA opens, I can’t wait until the festival opening and for the public to enjoy what’s on show.”

The new Dean for Gray’s School of Art, Dan Allen, said: “As a relative newcomer to Aberdeen as the new Dean for Gray’s, I am really impressed by the Spectra Festival and Look Again’s ‘Northern Lights’ commission. This is a festival of true international standing, that offers an expansive programme of free artwork and events that will attract visitors to Aberdeen from far and wide. I can’t wait to see what’s on show.”

Cllr Martin Greig, Aberdeen City Council Culture spokesperson, said: “We are pleased to be partnering with the Look Again team at Gray’s School of Art as part of this year’s stunning SPECTRA programme.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase some of the creativity that exemplifies the artistic talent here in Aberdeen and the wider North-east. It will be a rewarding experience for the artists and a fun experience for the Spectra audience to enjoy during the festival.”

The ten creatives, led by artist Craig Barrowman, featuring as part of ‘Northern Lights’ at Spectra, include Kirsty Lawie of local graffiti-specialists Outlines Collective, 3D designer and Gray’s alumni Kirsty Skea, multi-disciplinary artist Sean Wheelan, 3D animator Si Knox, sculptor and performer Gianni Esporas, and artists Andrey Chugunov, Harry Roberts, Mariana Machalska, Mark Luurtsema, and Sarah Buchan.

This year marks the festival’s tenth anniversary and SPECTRA will once again see the Granite City’s winter nights lit up with eye-catching projections, interactive sculptures, and magical installations.

A leading light of the North-east’s year-round cultural calendar, SPECTRA is delivered by Aberdeen City Council and created in collaboration with local company Live Event Management.

More information on the festival programme can be found at

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