Illuminations

Shortly after Easter 2017 the medieval St Andrew’s Church in Heckington, Lincolnshire witnessed an immersive world of art, sound and history. A collection of artworks and performances used digital technologies to show the church’s past and its place in local life in new and interactive ways.

illuminations’ was the culmination of a collaboration between academics, creative businesses, St Andrew’s church and the local community. Open Lab’s Simon Bowen was involved in the project and said: “St Andrew’s church is a fascinating building – visually, acoustically, and historically. We have tried to create artworks that encourage people to explore all these aspects and discover new things about this place and its role in everyday life.” During the day an exhibition of several interactive artworks invited visitors to experience the church in intriguing new ways, while in the evening performances of medieval plainsong and sound explorations accompanied by visual projections encouraged visitors to see and hear the building differently.

But illuminations was not just about historic sites. It also explored the role of digital technologies in heritage projects and even the role of churches themselves. By bringing the character, history, and community of St Andrew’s church to life, the project demonstrated how such places make a strong cultural contribution and strengthen the connections between people and where they live.

Lesley Pinchbeck, St Andrew’s Church Warden, commented: “This project is the catalyst for which Heckington has been waiting for centuries – where the creativity of the 14th century community meets and inspires that of the 21st”

Pete Banks, Engagement Team Leader for the church, added: “This has opened our eyes to the possibilities of developing the amazing attractions of St Andrew’s and delivering them in a way that we had never considered.

“In addition, the relevance of this project to all the people in the village, and particularly the young, in this digital age is even more prescient and will help us convince our audience that the building has a wide range of uses and is a place for everyone.”

Simon, along with other researchers at Newcastle University, including Magnus Williamson, John Bowers and Tim Shaw, worked on the project in collaboration with Draw & Code, a Liverpool-based digital design company; and Allan T Adams, an architectural illustrator.

Often, digital technology in heritage sites attempts to accurately recreate what has been lost. But this pretence at precision can be misleading and this project used more impressionistic means to evoke elements of ‘lost heritage’ and encourage visitors to make their own interpretations from the evidence provided by the artists and researchers.

Magnus Williamson, Professor of Early Music, explained: “Attending church in medieval times would have been very different to today. There is evidence that St. Andrew’s had a rood screen dividing the church in two, but its exact form and precisely how it and other church features were part of choral practices are not known. In this project we are letting visitors see how we are investigating this puzzle using singing, drawing, and their digital integration into the space.”

By involving the Heckington community in creating content for the exhibition, and in activities that will follow it, illuminations serves as an example of digital civics research, which seeks to use digital technologies to enable individuals and local communities to directly influence public services and community resources, such as heritage sites.

Several of the artworks will remain in place after the exhibition to support St Andrew’s in continuing to connect the church with the wider community in new ways.