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Amazing Immersive Light Display Shines into Newcastle Art Gallery

Mock image of digital installation for The Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition Mock image of digital installation for The Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition
What's on
September 2022
Reading time 7 Minutes

The Lindisfarne Gospels are back in the North East and design studio NOVAK have collaborated with the Laing Art Gallery on a new immersive light projection to display the manuscripts in a modern way. Living North discovers more

Newcastle-based NOVAK are renowned for innovative and ambitious site-specific art and design projects on a grand scale. ‘We specialise in video design and large-scale projection-based artworks which have been seen at events such as Lumiere in Durham, through to museum installations. You can find some of our work at the Great North Museum: Hancock,’ says studio director Adam Finlay. Their work has also been commissioned by the likes of Bloomberg, Google and MTV, and has featured alongside musicians including Disclosure, Calvin Harris and Jean-Michel Jarre. ‘We [Adam and his team Keith Daniels and Elliot Thomson] have been working together for the best part of 15 years now and have been NOVAK for 12 or so years. It was an evolving process. We met, started working, and gradually solidified into what we are today.’

Adam has lived in the North East since he was a child, he was educated here and is proud of his local area. ‘A lot of people gravitate south in this industry, moving to London which is often the next port of call, but we just didn’t,’ he explains. When they were approached by the Laing to put forward a proposal as part of their Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition, they of course jumped at the chance. ‘As soon as we got the go ahead we’ve been developing our piece with the team at the Laing, and we’re very much getting knee deep into it now,’ Adam says.

This immersive digital experience will be the first thing visitors will encounter and will establish the wider context for the Lindisfarne Gospels – the most spectacular illuminated manuscript to survive from Anglo-Saxon England. The book represents the golden age of design and craftsmanship in Northumbria and has survived (in almost perfect condition) for more than 1,000 years.

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‘Initially, as part of the proposal process, the Laing asked for an “immersive digital experience” but that can take a variety of forms. However, they did make it clear that they wanted to include certain narratives that relate to the creation of the Gospels and the wider influences that inspired the creation of them,’ Adam explains. ‘Working from there, we developed a concept in terms of the format that the piece would take, which is essentially a floor to ceiling projection, and in addition to that we decided we wanted a soundscape to enhance the visual elements. We’re working closely with a long-term collaborator called Ed Carter, from Gateshead, to produce all of the sound and musical elements that will feature in the installation.

British Library Board

‘In addition, and this was not part of the original proposal but has evolved as part of our collaboration with the Laing, we’re actually working with Laura Lindow who is a playwright, poet and all-round brilliant writer. There’s going to be a form of narration included as part of the experience. Rather than it being an informative, documentary-esque voiceover set in the 600s, it’s done in a much more poetic way, which has now become a key part of the work. The visual element is a massive part but the soundscapes and musical elements combined with the narration really makes it. It’s really nice to be working on a project for the North East, with people from the North East.’

NOVAK’s animated audio-video installation will immerse audiences in the design of the manuscript and the environments that shaped the book’s creation. Based around a tidal theme, the installation will transport audiences to early medieval Britain through light, visuals and sounds, and visual elements will reflect the twice-daily changing of the tides. With each return of the tide, a new immersive environment will be revealed.

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Fool’s Paradise at Durham Lumiere Fool’s Paradise at Durham Lumiere
3 men Keith Daniels, Elliot Thomson, Adam Finlay

I’ve been going to Lindisfarne for as long as I can remember,’ Adam recalls. ‘We’d have our family holidays in Bamburgh. Coincidentally, I’ve actually just spent a week on Holy Island on holiday with my family. Because Lindisfarne has been a huge part of my life, the Gospels have always been there – they’re such a significant part of the island’s history. Of course I knew about saints Aidan and Cuthbert, but this process has been fascinating from mine and my colleague’s points of view, in terms of getting to understand the origins: how there came to be a monastery originally on Lindisfarne, in what time period, and how it was by invitation of King Oswald, the King of Northumbria at the time – which was then a big swathe of the United Kingdom all the way down to the Humber (and is obviously much smaller today).

‘Perhaps most interesting was the realisation that the Gospels, which are an amazing example of craftsmanship and artistry, had taken influence from further afield as well. There are very obvious Irish and Celtic influences which you would naturally think of because the monks had their origins in Ireland. But there are influences from the Mediterranean, and Roman influences too. What interested me is realising that you might consider that a place like Lindisfarne might be isolated in that period – but it appears that it was quite the opposite. That’s a key part of what we’re trying to convey with this installation – highlighting that there were a lot of influences from a far wider world.’

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‘I very much hope they will spend time to get a better understanding from the research we’ve been doing with the Laing, and gain a much better of sense of the real importance of the Gospels’
 Hyem, North of the Tyne, Under the Stars by Pinwheel Hyem, North of the Tyne, Under the Stars by Pinwheel

Adam sees it as a privilege to be creating the entry point to the exhibition. ‘I’m very aware that for the whole world they’re an important document, but in particular for our region,’ he adds. ‘As many people have said, Lindisfarne is the cradle of Christianity as far as England is concerned and that’s in part because of the Gospels. I very much hope they will spend time to get a better understanding from the research we’ve been doing with the Laing, and gain a much better of sense of the real importance of the Gospels, and as a result you may take greater pleasure from the experience. That’s what we hope to achieve, and I genuinely believe that people will be able to look at them from a different perspective.’

Having spent a lot of time at the Laing recently, Adam has noticed there is no shortage of talent in the North East, and reflects on some of the places that spark his creativity. ‘I love film, and the Tyneside Cinema is one of my all-time favourite places in the whole city,’ he reveals. ‘I can’t measure how much of an influence the things I’ve seen at that place have had; it’s quite phenomenal. The landscapes of the region (particularly the coastal areas) too. I took my son and my mother to the Farne Islands to see the puffins and all the other birds recently. I can see lots of very exciting things happening around us. Importantly, it’s having a mix of established spaces like the Laing and BALTIC but also having the more underground and grassroots level organisations like The NewBridge Project – that’s a sign of a healthy creative scene because you have to have places that allow entry points for people. Ultimately, one of the most important things is seeing people being inspired by one another; that’s what’s driven us. At the moment we’re doing more work in the North East than we’ve ever done and I’m very positive and optimistic for what the future holds.’

The Lindisfarne Gospels will feature in a contemporary exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery from 17th September to 3rd December, on loan from the British Library. To find out more visit Discover more of NOVAK’s work at

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