Lighting Up First Breath by Luke Jerram

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"First Breath" was an art installation created by British artist Luke Jerram that took place outside Factory International, a landmark new cultural venue in Manchester opening later this year, that will be programmed and operated by the team behind Manchester International Festival (MIF), the world-famous biennial festival.

First Breath marked the start of the year, which will see Factory International open, and consisted of beams of slowly pulsating light shot up high, representing the moment a baby takes its first gasp of air, visible across the city’s skyline.

Inspired by the first breath of his baby daughter Maya, Luke wanted to celebrate the life-changing event by connecting families in an immersive and interactive way. He achieved that through a labyrinth-like design featuring three concentric rings, which comprised 60 x Ayrton Cobra on the outer rings and 3 x Ayrton Domino LT lighting fixtures in the middle. The installation was controlled by 2 x grandMA consoles, operating in Mode2.

The supplied equipment needed to match Luke’s vision. To do so, Luke and the project’s Producer, Jodie Ratcliffe, visited Adlib’s premises in Liverpool, where they had an opportunity to work with the team on selecting the right product for the lighting installation. After multiple pre-production tests and fixture demos, it became apparent that the fixtures manufactured by Ayrton fitted the bill.

The Adlib team, headed by Project Manager Nick Whitehead, worked with the UK Distributor of Ayrton, Ambersphere, to aid Luke’s development of the piece, which included programming and previsualisation, further equipment demo and testing.

Manchester’s Skyline as a Gallery

The three-ring design allowed the visitors to walk in between the rings, right at the foot of the tower. Looking up at the pulsating beams, visitors had a moment of meditative reflection whilst simultaneously being invited to connect with families celebrating their new-born’s first moments of life.

First Breath could be seen far and wide across Greater Manchester thanks to the powerful Ayrton fixtures. During these cold January evenings, Cobra and Domino luminaires easily cut through the light pollution, making the piece visible many miles outside its origin, no matter the weather.  

Being laser and LED based, the two fixtures performed incredibly well in the cold outdoor climate. Additionally, the low power consumption meant that the installation had fallen within Factory International’s sustainability goals, which was one of the critical guardrails of the project, with the lights 80% more efficient than direct equivalents.

As Luke explains, such an installation wouldn’t have been possible without the advancements in luminaire technology. The idea for the piece has been with him for many years; however, to produce such a powerful beam of light, he has always found limitations in the power and reach of the lighting fixtures.

“Having worked on Manchester International Festival before, we were pretty excited to see what working with Luke and Jodie would bring”, commented Nick Whitehead, promptly adding, “Bringing Luke’s piece to reality has presented a few interesting technological challenges; however, having Ambersphere on our side has allowed us sufficient pre-production time with Ayrton products, resulting in a project we can all be proud of.”

Luke concluded, “It’s been great working with Adlib on this project; they’ve helped me develop ideas, and they’ve been open to the possibilities of changing things. It’s been a great partnership, and I hope to work with them again in the future.”

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