As student life at Durham begins to slip back into relative normality, preparations are underway for the return of the city’s biennial light festival, Lumiere. The incentive behind Lumiere is to bring art into public, accessible spaces, as opposed to keeping it locked behind the doors of galleries or theatres. Artichoke, the company that runs the festival, state:
‘We aim to inspire and transform people’s lives by changing the way they see the world through art, bringing communities across the UK and beyond together in learning and participation projects, and leaving a legacy of skills and newfound potential behind.’
Lumiere has visited the streets of London, Durham, and Derry~Londonderry, but perhaps makes the biggest impact here, a small city with a tight-knit student body and local community. Last held in November 2019, the festival will soon be emerging with fresh post-pandemic vigour, while the remnants of past displays remain as a reminder of previous years. Permanent artworks include Jon Voss’ riverside ‘Heron’ , created for Lumiere 2017, and Hannah John Walker’s neon sign for Lumiere 2019, ‘The Next Page’, which hangs on the side of the Clayport Library. These glimpses of past installations hint at the creative variety which Lumiere brings to the city, and inevitably lead us to ask: what can we expect from this year, after so much has changed?
The most obvious development is in Lumiere’s county-wide installations, which this year will be responding to historic human interventions in the landscape. This will include light shows at Peterlee, Raby Castle, and Seaham, all settings with a huge amount of complex history. The Raby Castle display, designed by artist Javier Riera, will be using the lakeside to its advantage in creating ‘mind-bending’ geometric shapes out of light. The modern technology used to produce Lumiere’s projections works in harmony with the ‘silent all-seeing colossus’ of the ancient castle and its quiet grounds, just as the geometry of Riera’s light display complements and contrasts the walls of the building. Still, it’s not all the castles and historic battles we might expect; the returning 2019 Peterlee installation, ‘Apollo 50’, involves light projection onto the 52 year old brutalist building, Pasmore Pavilion. Suspended over water, this hyper modern building lends itself well to Mader Wiermann’s simple yet effective use of light and darkness, which reflects and multiplies in the waters below. The streams of light that Lumiere projects all around County Durham create strands of connection and unity, reflecting from the River Wear over to the lake of Raby Castle, from the lapping waters of Seaham to the still pond at Peterlee. More than ever, we can appreciate this county-wide festival for the hope and light that it symbolises in times of trouble. If you have a car, these installations are well worth a visit, and provide an amazing opportunity to explore Durham’s local history through art.
If you’re unable to get to these locations, there’s still plenty to see and do in Durham city itself. Some Covid-19 precautions have been taken by ticketing of the ‘Pink zone’, ie. the city centre, allowing crowd numbers to be managed, but 24 of the 37 installations are accessible even without a ticket. In the Viaduct (literally), Tendayi Vine and Bea Wilson’s installation ‘Limina’ will fill the underside of the Viaduct arch, immersing passers-by in light. Over at Durham Castle, a poetry anthology with the title ‘Into the Light’ will be projecting poems from leading UK writers onto the castle walls. For something a bit more creepy, head over to Walkergate to see Daniel Iregui’s ‘Omnipresence’, described as:
‘A disorienting journey defying dimensions, “Omnipresence” makes the viewer lose control of their own actions, causing delightful yet uneasy feelings about human impotence in the face of the digital world.’
One of my personal favourite installations from 2019 was ‘Cosmic Architecture’, a projection onto the Odgen Centre designed by Nina Dunn and John Del’Nero, accompanied by a soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge. Playing with the design of the wooden panels that stretch across the building, this immersive projection documented the very ‘birth of galaxies’. This year, the Odgen Centre is once again to be transformed through the creative vision of Leslie Epsztein and Camille Gross into ‘Chronos’, which echoes ‘Cosmic Architecture’ in its projection of a voyage through time.
Lumiere has only been running in Durham for just over a decade, but has already established itself as a firm and much loved tradition. Even if it’s just stopping for a moment on your way home, try to make the most of this opportunity to see the city as it morphs into a magical wonderland of light. Alternatively, if you’re keen to get fully involved in supporting the festival, you can apply to be a volunteer here.
For information on the festival, or to get a ticket for the central zone, visit: https://www.lumiere-festival.com/
Featured Image: Part of the ‘Sanctuary’ installation by Sarah Blood, Lumiere 2019. Photograph by Rachel Barlow.