“It is What is, not This is,” says Sarah Mole the founder of What Is? Collective. Inkeeping with the spirit of self enquiry What Is Light? invited various different artists, from different disciplines, to respond to the question of light.

What Is? Collective find new spaces and briefly transform them, through artistic intervention to fire the imagination, through a variety of visual and performance practices.

During a single evening an exhibition, performances and explorations took place in the industrial area of Wincolmlee and Bankside in Hull. To begin with festival-goers were invited to gather at the Whalebone pub, to meet with their guide Simon Button, for the first part of the evening.

The Whalebone pub has benefitted from an influx of punters and continues to do so, after the appearance of the Banksy on the Scott Street Bridge at the start of the year. Using a bespoke phone app, Heads Up festival-goers, tour the industrial area, inspecting the Banksy and the fakes, admiring the architecture and  nocturnal activity in an area, long thought to be the next site ripe for an arts-led resurgence.

With the council spotting a tourism opportunity, various walls in the area have been declared ‘Legal Walls’ and street artists are working on them on this and every other night.

The sight of the factories belching smoke reflected on the River Hull, was particularly atmospheric, the safety lights rippling across the water; the stairs on the side of the building now seemingly under the surface.

By special invitation from Reverend Canon Paul Greenwell the current Master of The Charterhouse, Hull, we cross the mosaic entrance to enter the chapel, Inside eyes follow the spotlights and lasers dancing upon the 18th Century walls: it feels like a rave in a church complete with sounds and voices.

The final destination is a community space, made into a gallery by the artists of What Is? Collective. There are abstract canvases by Sarah Mole and more figurative work from Sam Fowler. A billowing cloud installation by Buntruss floats effortlessly in one corner, a tunnel of poetry to be experienced by torchlight, invites the curious to piece together strips of verse.

“Light is a slap around the head from history. It takes millions of years to arrive…” – Lee Harrison

At the centre of the room is a photographic series of Hull landmarks from varied perspectives and angles by artist Jerome Whittingham. Jerome reflects upon ideas expressed by legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, a master of candid street photography.

“The creation of each photograph has a ‘decisive moment. There is,” he explained, “A single moment in time in which light, and action, and composition combine to create the perfect image. There is a tendency, perhaps, for photographers to think of light as fleeting and momentary. 

“But light is not like that.

“Light has a life.

“Light travels over time.

“Light bounces around a scene, reflecting off surfaces and skies at unimaginable speed.”

Michelle Dee (me) opened the performance element, with a spoken word piece ‘Lighter Than Us’ written by David Windass that looks at the idea that some people radiate a special kind of light prompted by an ill-advised Tinder date at Zoo cafe.

Other text pieces are shared with an attentive audience, including the aforementioned poem by Lee Harrison and another read by the actor  David Schaal. The text pieces have all been reprinted in a zine, which includes interviews, conversations and poems responding to What Is Light?

As the mulled wine flows and cakey biscuits are served at the pop up cafe, the night continues with beautiful music by two SpeakEasy musicians. Lookout for more What Is? Collective events throughout the year, and get involved.

What Is? Collective: Sarah Mole, Jerome Whittingham, Moie, Sam Fowler,  Lee Harrison, David Windass, Simon Button, Diana Tanase, Consuela Tanase, Buntruss, Michelle Dee, SpeakEasy, Artificial Limb Unit.

Thank you to the volunteers who saw us safely through the Bankside streets… to the Master for allowing us inside God’s House and for the invitation to return Sunday at ten in the morn… To the graffiti artists at the Legal Wall… the Bull and Bush and the Whalebone for welcoming us all.

Thanks to One Hull of A City for all the responses to our question projected above the stage. And to HCC for their rush to imprison the Banksy, the fake Banksy, and anything else that takes their fancy.        

Thanks to all of you who came together to ask What Is Light?

Michelle Dee