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Paul James - Editorial Comment

February / March 2014

An introduction to the latest issue from the editor Paul James ...

Paul James, editor, writes: 
Two incidents happened during my visit to Lumiere, Durham’s successful Festival of Light, that left me scratching my head. The first, whilst watching the breathtaking Elephantastic projection, occurred when I posted a picture of the installation on Twitter. I soon received a response from a lighting designer stating that the same installation was at Lyon’s Lumiere three years earlier. There is, of course, no problem with this as 99.9% of the people visiting Durham were blissfully unaware that what they are seeing had made a previous appearance elsewhere, but it does illustrate the point that there is clearly a ‘circuit’ where artists tout their wares for different events, recycling versions of their art.

The second was witnessing an argument between a Durham local and a member of the Lumiere’s security staff who was preventing him from entering the city centre as he didn’t have a ticket (overcrowding issues during the previous event in 2011 had led to this radical solution). The local was a bombastic old sod. An ex-miner and political activist (judging by the badges on his jacket), he was fiercely proud of his city and he was not amused. “This is our city and we are being prevented from entering it in the name of art!” An extreme example of course, but still a salient point that the Light Festival is now a thriving industry and the rolling in of the circus is certainly not to everyone’s benefit.
Indeed, at the Lyon Light Festival Forum (yes, there is a conference dedicated to the subject), Eduardo Hübscher, Artistic Director of the Jerusalem Festival of Light admitted that many of the locals who lived in the Old City were opposed to the event because of the disruption it caused, to the point that many left their homes for the week-long duration of the festival.

Is ‘Festival of Light’ even the right term anymore? They are often erroneously called ‘Lighting Festivals‘ but in truth, have very little to do with lighting, in the design sense anyway. Light Art is more of an appropriate term. Maybe even Light Entertainment if you excuse the pun. Helen Marriage of Artichoke (page 92), organisers of both the Derry and Durham Lumieres, is adamant that the installations that she curates constitute art and not pure entertainment. Johan Moritz (page 90), lighting designer for the Swedish city of Malmö is not so sure, arguing that Festivals of Light should include more lighting design rather than light art and that permanent installations should be part of a legacy that would make up for all the disruption caused - something that cities like Malmö, Tallinn (page 108), Durham (page 94), Derry (page 100) and Alingsås are keen to do. In Lyon I saw too many examples of temporary video mapping and projection on to buildings. Crowd pleasers, yes, but are they really pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with light and what do they bring to the legacy debate? It was good to see that one of the installations, at the Croisse-Rousse Tunnel, is to be permanent but I really think a lot more could be done with legacy in what many consider to be Europe’s foremost light festival event.

But do you know what? Despite my seemingly negative diatribe, I actually thoroughly enjoy visiting these events! I love the sense of community they bring (despite the above misgivings) and the fact that they show light, in whatever form, to a wider audience.

I will always remember seeing Ross Ashton’s projection on to York Minster, the magnificent cathedral, during the ‘Illuminating York’ festival in 2010. The scrum of people taking pictures and phoning their friends urging them to come down and see the awesome sight for themselves was a joy to behold. But the crowds soon dispersed and the city soon returned to normal again. If Festivals of Light can include more legacy projects then these windows to the world of lighting design could be very valuable indeed.



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