Archive interview: Exploring Ultiverse with Akeelah Bertram

Between 2016 and 2018, Akeelah Bertram created the Ultiverse. We spoke to her before its showing at Light Night at The Tetley in October 2018.

Akeelah Bertram is passionate about light. Inspired by the way it moves, the patterns it creates and its universal qualities, she uses light, coupled with sound, to develop immersive installations.

Back in October 2016, Akeelah brought Ultiverse to Patrick Studios, Leeds, then carried out a period of research and development at Union 105 studios to expand the project to be shown in October 2018 as part of Light Night at The Tetley.

We spoke to Akeelah before Light Night to discuss her inspiration, the creation of Ultiverse and where her work was heading next:

What inspires your work?

This city (Leeds) is a big part of my work. I grew up in Oakwood and often felt to lack the same cultural reference points of those around me, being the only black or brown face in the classroom. My Caribbean background meant that my cultural experience at home was different to that which I was experiencing during the day in the classroom. I had a different understanding of behaviour and a different perspective. That continued at college and university.

Those experiences growing up have really inspired my work. I aim to create tactile and immersive installations which are accessible. Regardless of your background, your response is valid. That’s where light comes in too. The way it behaves is universal, regardless of religion, faith or background, you experience light and that experience is based on humanity.

How are you developing Ultiverse?

This project is an experimental process. I’ve never collaborated with so many creatives before so this is a huge learning curve for me. Trying to balance creative direction while allowing the different voices to come to fulfilment has been one of the main things I’ve had to adjust to.

Every day we meet, the work evolves. The main thing has been combining the different working styles, and bringing the mindsets together. Thankfully all the collaborators are open minded and committed to adapting and fully engaging with the experimental process.

Since the first Ultiverse, we’ve seen the introduction of Ultrasonic sensors and audio responsive light mappings that have been used to create discrete and ambiguous interactions in the installation.

We’ve also introduced different art forms and began to explore the impact they have on the installation. I make mostly installations, and these change every time they’re installed in a different environment, so I never really think of my work as totally fixed. Ultiverse has definitely become an evolving work and I’m grateful for the ways the current collaboration and exhibition of the work has challenged the way it exists.

Who are you collaborating with?

The collaborators are a range of practitioners who I’ve known for different amounts of time. I’ve worked with some of them before and others I have just admired their work and wondered what would happen if we worked together.

On the team, we have dancer, Akeim Buck; composer/producer, Aron Kyne; technologist, Joanne Armitage; singer/songwriter, Thabo Mkwananzi; writer/playwright, Zodwa Nyoni; optics designer, Adam Glatherine; documentors, Anya Stewart Maggs and Omari Bertram; and intern, Mirabel Ukpabio.

We’re figuring out the balance between the collaboration as we go along; this is a new system of working and the majority of us don’t collaborate on such a large and diverse scale on a regular basis. Thankfully everyone is very open minded towards the process and willing to learn and adapt as we go along.

How has the Union 105 space contributed to the piece?

Having space and time at Union 105 to begin the collaboration has been extremely valuable. I don’t have a studio and it has been great to be able to think things through in real time for a change. It also helped to have a consistent space to meet and work with collaborators and audiences alike. We’ve done everything from melt acrylics to discuss migration stories in the space!

What’s next for you?

I’ve really enjoyed the journey that Ultiverse has taken me on, and I would love to see the work appear in more spaces nationally and internationally. There are so many things that I want to do. I have some concepts for outdoor pieces in the works; I want to explore larger scale immersive environments; and I would also like to host a festival or residency in the next couple of years. These are all ideas that are coming together and taking shape as I meet and talk to different people – so we’ll see!

Find out more about Akeelah Bertram and her work at

Other things!