Romans' last defence to host modern messaging; Hadrian's Wall is to become a modern messaging system and light show to celebrate the Olympics, as DAVID WHETSTONE explains.
AMAJOR art installation involving at least 600 tethered weather balloons should turn Hadrian's Wall into a visually stunning night-time attraction this summer.
Details of the project, which is called Connecting Light, emerged at the launch of the nationwide London 2012 Festival celebrating the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The festival is the climax of the Cultural Olympiad which has put the arts on a par with sport in the years leading up to the Olympics.
Connecting Light is being produced in partnership with Hadrian's Wall Heritage and local partners but it is being designed by a New York digital arts collective called YesYesNo. Zach Lieberman, one of the YesYesNo artists, was in the North East this week, helping to publicise the forthcoming attraction at either end of Hadrian's Wall.
He said they had been invited to Hadrian's Wall last October to take a look and then come up with a proposal.
"Obviously we saw pictures of the Wall online but I was really struck by it, not only because it's really picturesque and beautiful but by the diversity of the landscape along it.
"It's really amazing, going from rural to rugged and urban, and that's really interesting. One thing that appealed to us about this project was the scale of it and also that diversity."
Zach said they had come to the region with a completely open mind. "But the folks here really stressed their desire to have whatever we do go along the whole Wall.
"That was part of our proposal even though there are places where you can't see the Wall although it is there in people's imagination."
The idea of internally lit weather balloons tethered along the line of the Unesco World Heritage Site will spark memories of the Illuminating Hadrian's Wall project two years ago when beacons were lit at intervals along its length.
On a March evening in 2010, 25,000 people turned out to see that.
Zach said Connecting Light would be different because it involved cutting-edge technology and could be experienced by online visitors as well as people actually travelling to the Wall. However, he said the knowledge that Illuminating Hadrian's Wall had been a success had helped to make this latest project seem achievable.
"Our concept is to create a digital platform by which messages can be communicated the entire length of the Wall," he said.
"The goal is to understand the Wall in a modern context and imagine it not as a barrier but as a bridge, as a means of connecting rather than dividing.
"The installation serves as a low-res fibre-optic line connecting both coasts of England and allowing messages to spread in either direction.
"People will be able to interact at sites along the Wall as well as all over the world through the internet."
Messages sent along the Wall will have the potential to transform it into a line of pulsating colours via the tethered weather balloons, internally lit by LED lights.
Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian's Wall Heritage, said: "Connecting Light will turn what was the Roman Empire's northern frontier into a contemporary communication system.
"We want to inspire a worldwide conversation of people's thoughts on all aspects of borders and frontiers in their lives today."
Zach and his team are currently developing the project in collaboration with Culture Lab at Newcastle University.
Connecting Light will be live from August 31 to September 1. Check www.hadrians-wall.org for times and visitor locations which will be made available in early summer.
INSPIRED Zach Lieberman of New York digital arts collective YesYesNo which is designing the Connecting Light art installation on Hadrian's Wall LIGHTING A LEGEND The artist's concept image based on an original image of Housesteads Crags