The diary of a Workshop Lead

A lot has happened since last year’s Lights in Alingsås, so it was great to hear that the event would take place this year (it’s on now until 1 November), albeit on a slightly different and smaller scale.

For those who don’t know, Alingsås is a Swedish town that hosts an annual lighting design programme and event. “Lights in Alingsås” centres around a week-long workshop where lighting design professionals take on the role of workshop head and impart their theoretical and practical knowledge onto eager lighting design students. Collectively each group creates a lighting installation, that is then on display to the public; the event is presented by Alingsås Energi in collaboration with the IALD. In the absence of a workshop this year, a number of permanent lighting installations are being exhibited – ones that Alingsås already has and ones that have been donated by Alingsås Energi over the years.

Early last year, I was delighted to be selected as a workshop head for the 2019 event, themed “Be the Light”. I’d previously heard of the programme and had an idea of what it was about, but nothing prepared me for the highs and lows, and the accomplishment felt after a sleepless week creating a lighting installation with my team.

Prior to greeting the students, the workshop heads gathered in Alingsås to meet the Alingsås Energi project team and visit the seven installation sites, within the beautiful Nolhaga park. Having previously designed lighting installations around mirrors, I was captivated by a site on the edge of the large lake. Sites selected, we started on our initial concepts and then travelled home to develop them further… and the pressure was on – it was also Alingsås’ 400-year celebrations alongside the 20th year of Lights in Alingsås.

I used the time between trips to do numerous mockups – to refine the ideas associated with the lake that I was so inspired by. I found myself in the desert lakes of Al Qudra (outside of Dubai) experimenting with mirrors and spotlights late into the evening. Fast forward a few months and I was on my way back to Sweden, nervous, eager and a little worried about what would unfold.

After an initial day of preparing and several educational seminars the workshop heads presented their concepts to 50 enthusiastic students, who then selected their preferred choice. Luckily, I found myself with a group of passionate and eclectic student designers from Mexico, India, Netherlands, Poland, Chile and Sweden, who were just as inspired by the lake and mirrors as I was.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

Site visit

Our first stop was a site visit to analyse the lake and surrounding landscape, followed by a lesson in lighting basics 101. Then it was time for experimenting in a dark room. The students were hands on straightway, testing mirrors, spotlights and coloured gels, developing the concept and learning by having fun with light… exploring the way it can refract and change. It was at this point that they became inspired by seasonal colours, so once the sun had gone down, we went back to site, fixtures and mirrors in hand.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

Dark room mock-ups

What happened next is a classic example of no matter how many mockups you do, things don’t always go to plan on site! Most of the ideas didn’t work as they did in the dark room, or back in Dubai, due to the conditions on the lake and the surrounding ambient light levels.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

First mock-up on site

The next two days were a whirlwind of mockups, pizza and late nights to finalise the concept – experimenting in the dark room and on site and developing the idea of seasonal colours. At this point, I’ll admit, I was a little worried – time was ticking away, and other sites were progressing nicely. But as a team we persevered, only to come across an accidental solution when playing with some metal mesh that we’d found – and thankfully it worked a charm on site.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

Experimenting with mesh

It was all hands on deck over the next few days, as we installed the rest of the mirrors and fixtures on site… which happened to be mostly on water. (I never thought my experience as a Dragon Boat paddler would come in handy in the middle of a lighting workshop.)

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

Installing mirrors in the lake & gel filters to the spotlights

Alongside our original concept that used white fixtures with filters (similar to a theatre), we also used additional RGBW fixtures. This brought the surrounding landscape to life and ensured it was in harmony with the sculptural experience (created by the mirrors) that would take form on the lake.

As darkness fell, the students finally started to see their ideas come to life – the reflection of the mirrors, the texture of the mesh and the colours of the lights. We continued late into the remaining nights, adjusting and focusing the light fittings, some of them integrated into the landscape in interesting, awkward and obscure ways in order to get the angle of each beam of light just right.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

First glimpse at the full installation!

As things were finally coming together, the talented sound producer Sebastian Studnitzky (part of the Alingsås team) took on board our idea of the seasons and reflections and created a unique sound loop for our installation. The outcome of this was magical and really brought the installation to life. But this fantastic addition presented the students with yet another lesson in lighting design: programming always takes 10 times longer than you think it will.

Sitting out in the cold for hours on end we worked through things with the programmer, directing and developing the colours alongside the music. Then, at 2am, we got to experience our finished installation, music and all – and I felt very proud. Despite being there to educate and help the students along the way, this was something that they had developed. It was created by them.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Project Team

Project team

With the students presenting the final design and the as-built documentation to Alingsås Energi, the installation was finally handed over for the 5-week festival for an expected 80,000 visitors.

Lights in Alingsås The Pond Köllera Lighting Installation

Final installation: Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter scenes

The installation was named “The Pond Köllera” (Köllera being Swedish slang for pond) and this is the message that sat alongside it:

“In a world where many negative things surround us, positive energy is fragile and is easily lost. This energy weaves and bends and appears unexpectedly from all directions. It is a reminder to take that energy that surrounds us and always reflect it on to others to make a positive change. A change that can carry and impact others no matter how many months and years beyond your time at Alingsås.”

For me, being a workshop lead was one of the most challenging yet rewarding professional development experiences. It takes you out of the day-to-day experience of being a lighting designer and creates an environment where students and professionals can creatively thrive. Whilst the installations and challenges are temporary, all who participate forever become part of the family and legacy of this unique programme.

Although a year has gone by, I’d like to say thank you to the IALD and Lights in Alingsås for the opportunity, and Ecosense for being the main fitting sponsor. I strongly recommend this workshop to any lighting student or professional who is thinking about participating – it’s more than worth it.

Last, but not least, I’d like to mention my wonderful team: Naxelli Burgoa Balzabal, Lisa Holmgren, Constanza Solis Navarro, Naslu Tharayil, Agata Terpinska and Nick Dankers, and student electricians, Ali Abbasi, Jacob Ritari and Malker Warfvinge. You did us proud!