Whilst most people were in bed on 1 January, sleeping off their hangovers and making the most of the remaining holiday before having to go back to work, I was heading north on the M1 to go back to my hometown of Hull. The reason? I wanted to be there for its big moment; the point at which Hull officially announced itself to the rest of the world as the UK City Of Culture for 2017. This year has been a long time coming. Ever since the result was announced in 2013, the city, its inhabitants and people like me, its ex-patriots, have been gearing up for one of the biggest years in Hull’s lifetime.
Made In Hull was the inaugural event and I was looking forward to it with interest. All I knew was that it involved projection mapping of some kind. It was taking place at eight sites across the city, We Are Hull being the main attraction in the centrally-located Queen Victoria Square. Thanks to a job in the events industry I was familiar with projection mapping, so when I trotted into the city centre that day I was going with two heads on; one, an excited ex-Hull resident and the other an excited events industry nerd.
Hull’s history is deep-rooted and give anyone the chance to tell you and we will open our mouths and spill forth a slew of facts. We refused entry to King Charles I in 1642, paving the way for the Civil War. Our MP, William Wilberforce, was instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. The list, and I, could go on. We Are Hull saw a whistle-stop tour of major events in the last 70 years of Hull’s history, to do any more would take much longer than a few minutes.
Before the installation began there was time for the crowds to gather, a clock counting down the minutes until the performance would begin. But the performance was actually already in process, electric green lines running up over the three main buildings in the square – City Hall, Ferens Art Gallery (where the Turner Prize will be held this year) and the Maritime Museum – picking out the details on these buildings, running up the pillars, across the window arches, up to the top of the roof and back down again. It drew your eye in, making you look at the buildings that people walk past every day without giving a second thought to. So simple but completely mesmerising.
Rather than using projection mapping to project a logo onto the wall of a building as part of an event, with Made In Hull the projection mapping was the event and that meant there were no holds barred. Trying to find the words to describe how I felt for the thirteen minutes or so that We Are Hull lasted is incredibly hard because for that period of time I was so absorbed and transfixed that I don’t think I was aware of myself and what I was thinking.
I went from tears of laughter as I saw the City Hall transformed into a giant fun house to represent Hull Fair, one of the largest travelling fairs in Europe and a key date in the calendar if you live in the city; to a lump in the back of my throat as tribute was paid to the triple trawler ship sinkings in 1968 which saw 58 men lose their lives. I felt pride watching footage of Amy Johnson, the first female pilot to fly solo to Australia, and watching Dean Windass score the goal that took Hull City into the Premier League for the first time in the club’s 107-year history back in 2008. Perhaps the most breathtaking part of the installation was hearing the announcement from Neville Chamberlain that Britain was at war with Germany and watching as the buildings in front of our eyes seemed to burst into flames. It was truly spectacular and incredibly emotive. It isn’t particularly well known that Hull was the second hardest hit city after London during the German bombing raids in 1940-41. Watching the flames roar up the front of the building, accompanied by smoke and red strobe lights, it would take a hard-headed person not to get a shiver down their spine.
Pride. Elation. Sadness. I ran through a whole gamut of emotions in a very short period of time and as emotional as the ex-Hull resident was, the events industry nerd was left with a brain whirring at a million miles a second. Are we getting the most out of projection mapping for our events? Could we be doing more than just showing that we can put a picture on the side of a building? Could we be using it to tell a story, capture people’s imaginations, draw them in and make them feel part of something much bigger?
As inaugural events go, Made In Hull was one hell of a way to kick things off and the events industry would do well to sit up and take notice of the next year in Hull and see what they can learn.