Last weekend I was lucky enough to get up to Durham, in the NE of England, to spend a couple of nights experiencing the latest event from Artichoke, titled Lumiere. And a magnificent event it was too.
Lumiere was in fact how I first heard about Artichoke, via a TV documentary on Sky Arts (in the old days when I used to subscribe to Murdoch TV — we’re now on Freesat). That first Lumiere happened in 2009, and of course I’d missed it. But they planned to do it again, and when I heard about the 2011 event I was quick to block out the time and book a hotel.
The event, which brought dozens of international artists working with light into the heart of the mediaeval city, turning it into a vast illuminated art gallery, lasted over four nights, nominally from 6-11pm, and featured around three dozen separate exhibits. Some of the higher profile installations were in the city centre, but many were rather further out, and in fact you would have needed all four nights to catch everything. I only had two nights, and that simply wasn’t enough — I probably saw about 2/3 of the installations and missed some that I really wanted to see. Thankfully the weather was kind to us — no rain and in fact quite warm — a good deal warmer, in fact, than the last Artichoke event I attended, Dining with Alice, back in May!
What I had rather underestimated was the number of people who would throng the centre of the ancient city as night fell and we approached 6pm. We gathered next to the statue of the Marquess of Londonderry — not one of the nicest people in life, allegedly — who had been transformed, thanks to Jacques Rival, into an immense snow-globe with the words “I Love Durham” on the plinth. Hehe.
The crowd control was excellent, despite the enormous numbers of people, but what the organisers could have done that would have helped was to have had a fairly serious PA set up in the Market Place so that the crowds could be informed about what was happening. The bull horns in use had an effective range of about 10 feet, so most of the time none of us had any idea what was happening or going to happen. It turned out that we were waiting to be allowed up the cobble streets to the Cathedral, but we didn’t all know that. However, that is the only mildly negative comment I have about the whole festival, and hopefully the planned 2013 event will take this suggestion into account.
Via Twitter, @ArtichokeTrust asked what my favourite exhibit was, and it’s really difficult to say. Of course the amazing son et lumiere at the Cathedral, highlight of the original 2009 show, must rate up there, and that’s the first thing we were effectively queuing to see. Titled Crown of Light, it consisted of marvellous images of the Lindisfarne Gospels and much more, illuminating the front of the Cathedral with multiple sections sliding up and down independently, accompanied by a powerful surround audio and music soundtrack including actual environmental recordings from Lindisfarne itself (though I think it would have sounded better in Ambisonics, of course). Crown of Light was created by Ross Ashton, Robert Ziegler, and John Del’ Nero.
It’s actually quite hard to convey much of a sense of Crown of Light as it was so immense. But here’s a taste:
The above video includes two extracts, one from near the beginning and the other from the end. It’s a hand-held mini-camera running at its highest sensitivity, so it’s not wonderful quality, but hopefully you’ll get the idea. The first extract is 16:9 and the second pillarboxed 4:3, the latter showing rather more of the building.
Following the presentation (there were three per hour), we could either go off to the left, and down towards the river, or we could file into the Cathedral itself, where there were some amazing things going on in the Nave, the cloisters and the College gardens behind.
Compagnie Carabosse had hung the Nave with lamps made of white vests on frames, while at the far end of the Nave, next to the pulpit, was a gentleman performing on electric guitar, synth and vocals, in a rather cool neo-Steampunk environment. This photo of him is a bit ropey, but hopefully you get the idea from that and the (even more ropey) raw iPhone video below (the audio improves dramatically at 2:22).
In the cloisters and gardens it was fire — with amazing metal frameworks and sculptures with flames issuing from various parts — from the enormous (a rotating globe covered in firepots in the cloisters) to fiery fountains and strange little figures.
Emerging from the gardens through an ancient archway, we turned down the hill to be confronted by a sequence of marvellous illuminated wire-mesh sculptured human figures, sometimes flying, sometimes sitting nonchalantly on a roof, or reclining in a garden. These were Les Voyageurs (The Travellers), by Cedric Le Borgne — a number of French artists were represented here.
We proceeded down the hill, marvelling at these overhead, nearby and distant figures, until we came to Prebends Bridge, which gave us a passage through a progressive rainbow of colours.
And then it was back towards the centre of the city along the riverfront, with the trees and bridges illuminated by gently shifting coloured lights — and virtually all the lights in the Festival, incidentally, were low-energy varieties, with some City lighting turned off so the overall energy impact of the event was minimal.
Some of the exhibits were lower-key, but nonetheless effective. Real and imaginary stories were told in illuminated text; a clock on a far building spelled out the time in lower-case Helvetica; and a series of illuminated panels hung high above the narrow streets. Possibly the best-known artist’s work at Lumiere was Tracey Emin’s: an illuminated phrase, “Be Faithful to your dreams” in blue, handwriting-style text on the side of the chapel in a disused graveyard, approached along a path lined with trees softly shining with slowly shifting colours.
Elsewhere, an enormous light bulb made of lights hung over the river Wear:
…while commonly-thrown-away objects were montaged and lit with LEDs:
We had an invitation to join friends and sponsors in the Town Hall on the Saturday night, which was good fun, and I had some interesting chats — with Artichoke co-Director Nicky Webb and with the people who organised the food for Dining With Alice, who had quite a tale to tell, to name but two.
All in all, Lumiere 2011 was an amazing, magical, marvellous festival of lights and art – exactly what I have learned to expect from Artichoke. I do hope they are able to do it again in 2013.