Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales were the inspiration for an arts project in Hull in which mannequins in shop windows were the canvas for Optoma EH200ST and ML750ST projectors.
Absolutely Cultured is the company which delivered the Hull UK City of Culture project in 2017, as Hull 2017. It continues to have a role in the city’s future as an arts organisation and commissioned Urban Legends: Northern Lights, an outdoor event featuring captivating projections and atmospheric soundscapes, in winter 2018.
In one of six projects commissioned for the festival, internationally renowned artists Davy and Kristin McGuire transformed three shop windows, using Hans Christian Anderson’s most-loved stories The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and the Emperor’s New Clothes as inspiration. Each shop window would have a mannequin as the central focal point for each story. A monologue would give each character a voice but projection onto the mannequins’ faces would actually bring them alive. In addition, the Emperor show window would feature a live performance, interacting with the audience
The Still Lives installations were unveiled in three shop windows on Whitefriargate in Hull city centre on the opening night of the four-day festival which ran from 29 November – 2 December. The Emperor’s performance was live and interactive during the festival itself, after which all three stories remained open for visitors to enjoy pre-recorded monologues every evening until 6 January 2019.
Each window used two Optoma EH200ST short throw projectors with an additional ML750ST short throw LED ultra mobile projector for the Emperor’s face. Local actors Rick Bland and Jack Chamberlain alternated in sitting behind the stage with a microphone and a monitor, which showed the crowd watching the emperor from a hidden camera. With their faces projected onto the naked male mannequin and their voices booming out from the speakers, they interacted with the audience.
Lily Mellor, Absolutely Cultured’s producer, said: “Urban Legends: Northern Lights was our biggest event so far as Absolutely Cultured, with around 60,000 people visiting the installations over the four-day festival. All six commissions brought something very different – many of them large-scale, covering whole buildings or streets – and all of them ambitious. Studio McGuire created a more intimate and magical experience with a really creative use of projection and an incredible attention to detail in each of the scenes.
“Visitor reaction to the installations was massively positive. You could see kids’ faces pressed against the glass in absolute delight and crowds gathered around the windows, watching the stories unfold. The characters were great for families as they were engaging and humorous but also with darker undertones, so there was something that appealed to everyone. With the stories cleverly playing on each of the fairy tale characters’ vanity, visitors described the Snow Queen as enchanting and the interactive exchanges between the Emperor actor and the audience as captivating and brilliant. The Emperor was definitely the most popular because we kept the interactivity a secret. it was just so unexpected!”
Bill Gee, who attended the event, said: “I loved the Emperor. The fact that it was a live character was again a really different thing for me. It was really captivating seeing the quality of the improvisation between the kids and the Emperor. Whoever it was doing it, when I saw it, was brilliant.”