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Issue 65 Feb / Mar 2012

The second Durham LUMIERE was a huge success, attracting twice as many visitors as the first. Paul James was there to see what all the fuss was about.

When I visited Durham’s inaugural festival of light in 2009, it was a pleasant enough event already professing to be the largest of its kind in the UK with the demise of Glasgow’s Radiance festival. Back then, 75,000 visitors came to see 20 installations including seven new commissions. It was a good event in a good city.

So imagine my surprise when, two years later, I arrived in Durham to find a buzz I have rarely experienced anywhere in the world. The signs should have forewarned me that things would be different in 2011. The Radisson Blu hotel, the ‘official partner hotel’ for the event, only had rooms available for one night and, try as I might, no other accommodation in the city centre was available for the rest of the weekend. The Days Inn by the side of the motorway it was then.

When I ventured into the city centre at 6pm for the start of proceedings it was clear that this second edition of LUMIERE had stepped up a gear. Throngs of people had gathered in Market Square where a giant snowdome covered the statue of the much reviled Marquess of Londonderry (‘I Love Durham’ by French artist Jacques Rival).

By the time the four day festival had finished, an estimated 140,000 people had taken to the streets of Durham to enjoy the 35 artworks that ranged from large-scale projections like Ross Ashton’s ‘Crown of Light’ which saw the Lindisfarne Gospels projected onto Durham Cathedral, to small scale neon work like Tracy Emin’s ‘Be Faithful To Your Dreams’ piece in an abandoned Durham graveyard.

To a certain extent, LUMIERE 2011 was a victim of its own success. The crowded narrow streets and one way systems were no match for the volume of people and decisions need to be made as to whether Durham is sufficiently equipped for such a large-scale event.

Nonetheless, the slight inconvenience of slow crowd movement and sometimes not being able to go where you wanted, did not take away from what was an excellent show.

All credit should go to arts company Artichoke, best known for creating unforgettable events like ‘La Machine’ in Liverpool or Antony Gormley’s ‘One & Other’, and who have organised both LUMIERE festivals.

LUMIERE 2011 also included Lux Scientia, a collaboration with light festivals in Poland and Estonia, as well as four pieces created by artists from the North East, Brilliant, including ‘Rainbow’ by Deadgood Studio who used 120 Parcans with ACL lamps and a series of 28 LED panels to create a rainbow effect over the River Wear. As if that wasn’t enough, an illuminated waterfall from the Kingsgate Bridge (the last building to be designed by the great engineer Ove Arup) was created by Canadian artist Peter Lewis, with lighting by Speirs + Major.

Possibly the star of the show was Ross Ashton’s ‘Crown of Light’ projected artwork on Durham Cathedral. Having projected onto the cathedral in 2009, Ashton was delighted to be asked back.

“It’s a real testament to the piece and very flattering to be asked back with the same show. It’s also extremely rare for the same creation to be requested again in its entirety, offering those who enjoyed the experience the first time around the chance to do so again, a new audience the opportunity to see it for the first time plus real value for the producers.”

Ashton created the projection show’s storyboard after an initial brief from Artichoke’s Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb. He took ideas related to its narrative and direction and then added and developed his own input.

The story captured the history of the Cathedral including the Lindisfarne Gospels, noted for their amazing accompanying imagery and spectacular Celtic calligraphy. These were originated by the Lindisfarne Monks and stored in Durham Cathedral for many years, along with the bones of St Cuthbert which still reside there. Ashton’s show also explored the building as an architectural space and its relationship with and historical significance to the City.

Ashton and Paul Chatfield evolved the PIGI projection images in collaboration with musical director Robert Ziegler, who compiled a soundscape for the sixteen minute show. Ashton sourced images from the British Library and also conducted a photo shoot at the Cathedral to record all the architectural and structural elements he wanted to incorporate into the show.

The projection system comprised 7 x PIGI 6KW machines with double rotating scrollers, positioned at various distances around the Cathedral - the longest throw distance was 150 metres and the shortest just 20 metres. This was carefully calculated to eliminate any shadowing from the plethora of trees dotted around the Cathedral Gardens - and was also a primary creative and technical challenge of the project.

The seven projectors – supplied by White Light - were in six different locations, fitted with five different types of lens, ranging from a 10cm wide angle lens to an 85 cm long throw lens. Images from each individual machine enveloped a separate zone of the Cathedral’s architecture in colourful, bold, detailed imagery.

Inside the cathedral, one of the installations that I unfortunately didn’t get to see due to the crowds was ‘Spirit’ by “fire alchemists” Compagnie Carabosse. At its centre, a giant lighted sphere hung in the Cathedral Crossing. A series of lanterns made from the vests traditionally worn by miners led visitors back down the Nave and outside into the garden filled with garlands of flamepots, boilers and other glorious structures laced with fire. The piece gradually came to life each night as one by one the candles were lit, recalling the medieval tradition of the lighting of the Paschal Candle, which in Durham was a structure so high as to reach to the Cathedral ceiling.

LAb[au]’s Binary Waves digital installation outside the Radisson Blu hotel consisted of 40 rotating LED panels three metres high and 60 centimetres wide, placed at regular intervals to form a kinetic light wall. The inputs driving the installation were provided by infrared sensors and spectrum analysers, capturing the surrounding infrastructural / circulation flows of traffic and electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones and radio. In order to underline the two major principles driving the installation - the measuring and propagation of urban flows - the panels were illuminated by two different colours: the red lights, illuminating one side of the panel in eight horizontal lines, displaying the electromagnetic fields of the area whereas the white light, illuminating the edges of the panels, reflected the frequency of people and cars passing by.

Perhaps the most mesmerising installation was ‘Les Voyagers’ (The Travellers) by Cédric Le Borgne inspired by the Wim Wenders film, ‘Wings of Desire’. Simply lit wire mesh figures perched on top of buildings, in gardens and floated high in the sky produced an eerie, ethereal experience walking along the South Bailey area of Durham.

LUMIERE 2011 was a joy to experience and, based on the reaction from members of the public, shows that the appetite for festivals of light is as strong as ever. The question now is how do Artichoke ensure that the festival can progress whilst remaining safe and comfortable as well as inspiring? In many ways Durham is perfect for a festival of this kind due to its many different styles of architecture and landscape. If only it were a little bigger...


Pics: Matthew Andrews unless stated

  • Pic courtesy of LAb[au]

  • Pic: Robin Price

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