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Review: Lumiere, Durham. 17-21 November 2011

Light festivals, like going to the cinema could be seen as a deviant activity. By choice people enter dark and possibly unknown places, to stand amongst strangers and be emotionally and intellectually affected by light and sound. Many of the most memorable experiences in Lumiere, the UK’s largest light festival depend upon on our willingness to be deviant. Lumiere merged art and spectacle in a series of installations, illuminations and projections on buildings, streets and bridges in Durham, in the north of England from 17-21 November 2011, with the participation of over 80 local and international artists, lighting designers and community groups. An estimated 140,000 people experienced Lumiere’s 35 artworks that ranged from large scale commissions in central locations to discreet interactive sculptural pieces in unexpected places.

The major works included Crown of Light, best described as a son et lumiere by Ross Ashton, Robert Zeigler and John Del’ Nero. A repeat performance from the 2009 Lumiere; spectators, like pilgrims, were attracted up the hill to the Cathedral to experience the projections of the Lindisfarne Gospels on the medieval building with ambient sound filling the night.

The French artists Compagnie Carabosse produced an eerie lighting installation in the Cathedral with the primeval lure of fire, leaping flames and flying sparks from braziers and metal sculptures around trees with computer generated and vocal music in the medieval cloisters and College Gardens.

Jacques Rival’s I Love Durham enclosed the equestrian statue of the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry in a giant snowdome in the Market Square.  Peter Lewis’ exultant, Splash, on the Kingsgate footbridge, created a  powerful waterfall. Leonardo Meigas’s Hartmann Grid, produced as part of the Lux Scientia programme,  explores how we are continuously exposed to natural radiation sources made visible by the realisation of a Hartmann Grid: a network of luminous flumes that visualise the lines of natural radiation, or ‘invisible walls’, which surround us.

Lumiere 2011 also included Lux Scientia, a collaboration with light festivals in Poland and Estonia, and four pieces under the title, Brilliant, created by artists from the North East.

Lux Scientia included a symposium, led by curator Mario Caeiro, of Luzboa, Lisbon’s International Light Festival where the three artists, Meigas (Estonia), Simeon Nelson (UK), Dominik Lejman (Poland) discussed the full intentions of their respective Lumiere installations.

Art and spectacle are the new dynamic for culture in public spaces. Melanie Sensicle, Director of Leisure and Tourism estimated that the annual commercial value of tourism for Durham was in the region of £660,000 and supports about 10% of the workforce. Lumiere 2009 generated over £1million revenue for Durham and the 2011 event expected to exceed that.

A seminar, entitled But Is it Art?, chaired by Sarah Weir, Arts Council England (responsible for the Olympic Park public art programme) brought together five producers of a large scale public arts events:  Helen Marriage, Angus Farquhar of Edinburgh based NVA), John Fox of Welfare State International, Andrea Schlieker, curator of the Folkestone Triennial and Mario Caeiro. The question of whether or not Lumiere is art quickly became secondary to the questions about how we value our public space and whose space is it anyway?  At a time when public spaces around the world are the focal points of protest for regime change and against economic catastrophe, the Durham gatherings were charged with the positive energy of spectacle.

Lumiere is produced by Artichoke, led by Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb. Their productions include Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant, 2006; La Machine’s 50-foot high mechanical spider for Liverpool’s Capital of Culture, 2008; Antony Gormley’s One & Other for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London; and Paul St George’s The Telectroscope, which allowed people in London and New York to communicate with each other by means of an ‘undiscovered’ transatlantic tunnel.


Jacques Rival (France), I Love Durham. photo: Eileen Woods

Ross Ashton, Robert Ziegler, John Del’ Nero (UK), Crown of Light. photo: Lumiere

Peter Lewis (Canada), Splash. Engineered by Water Sculptures (UK). photo: Lumiere

Leonardo Meigas (Estonia), Hartmann Grid. photo: Lumiere




Text by Eileen Woods.

Acknowledgements: Artichoke and East Coast Trains www.eastcoast.co.uk for supporting the aajpress visit to Durham.

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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