Astera at the Heart of Manchester

Alex Webb used 28 x Astera AX1 PixelTubes – battery powered wirelessly operated fully controllable LED RGBW batons – to create ‘The Heart of Manchester’, a 20-metre high heart shaped light sculpture on the Quay Street façade of the No.1 Spinningfields building in central Manchester.

Alex is a Brand Manager for Allied London, the property developer at the centre of evolving this vibrant area of the city, which has become a leading business destination, legal quarter and a thriving living and working community as well as a place for socialising and entertainment.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Spinningfields commissioned various public art displays around town to explore love and heartbreak in the city, a project that also included offering this as their own creative contribution for public enjoyment and Instagram hotspots!

Inspired and tasked to find new, fresh and invigorating ways of getting people to engage with their environment and appreciate the striking modernist urban backdrop of Spinningfields, Alex is constantly seeking to drive footfall and spark interest in the area’s cafes, bars, restaurants and other facilities.

The pulsing Astera AX1 heart is visible across the evening skyline and from key vantage points like the Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station and as far away as Old Trafford. It was an instant Valentine’s Day hit on social media with people flocking for selfies with it in the background… so much so that the installation has been extended and will run for the remainder of February.

The tubes weigh only 1kg each, and Alex found some industrial strength suction pads which he used to fix them to the inside of the windows along floors 12 to 17 of the building. Black cloth is used as a mask behind the lights and the heart measures approximately 20 metres top to bottom, with its lowest point around 40 metres up the building.

The AX1s were programmed by Pete Deacon productions and Alex Webb – using the Astera App – to pulse through a series of luuurve colours, from rich sumptuous red to hot steamy purple!

The original idea was that the tubes could be removed and charged up during the day and then clipped into place ready for the evening’s lighting display… but with mains power available and the fact they can also run as wired fixtures, they are going for 24 hours! With the black cloth masking behind the luminaires and the brightness of the output, they can be clearly seen in daylight as well.

Alex organises many different events and activations, and he first saw Astera products, including the PixelTubes, at the PLASA lighting and sound show in 2017. The exclusive UK distributor is London based Ambersphere Solutions.

He thought they would be perfect for multiple event scenarios, and purchased 40, which were also used in ‘The Shape of Light V1’ a work by Alex Webb for the 2018 Leeds Light Night festival, which involved four different shaped geometric metal stages, illuminated internally with the tubes on a slow pulse chase.

For Valentine’s Day 2018 Alex and his team helped realise the original ‘Heart of Manchester’ illuminated sculpture by artist Stuart Langley, which was displayed on the same building and involved a cloth drop that was lit.

This year Alex revisited that initial ‘Heart of Manchester’ concept, this time using the AX1 tubes and lighting technology in a different and more elaborately way.

He is also using the AX1s for another installation on Hardman Square, which is a striking two metre-high heart shaped floral arrangement of cineraria eucalyptus, asparagus fern and salal, created by local florists at David Wayman Flowers, who are located in Spinningfields. This sits in a specially fabricated metal structure that helps keep it upright, and the AX1s, which are charged up during the day and set up at dusk, are cable-tied to the insides of the metal legs, bathing the piece in reds and pinks to draw attention and accentuate its texture and subtleties.

Shape of Light V2 has been in place for around three months now and has become a local landmark and generated a lot of public interaction. People have been experimental in unclipping and moving the tubes around to get better and different photos and more light on themselves, etc., whilst composing their images! In all that time, none of the tubes have been stolen!