Lumiere: love or loathe?

Lumiere lights up the North East’s art scene

By Harriet Willis

This weekend has seen Durham covered in lights. Exhibits have popped up on street corners, buildings have been illuminated in spectacular colour, and even our winding streets have been splattered with light streaming from a projector. Organised by Artichoke and supported by Durham County Council, the Lumiere festival is to thank for this city-wide immersion of art.

The festival is comprised of 28 art installations, all thoughtfully designed by artists from around the world. Each one has been crafted to have meaning behind it, enabling local residents, students, and visitors to share and explore the different interpretations of each artist. Because of this, every two years, Lumiere unites thousands of strangers over a shared love of art.

Lumiere invites art into our streets

Take for example Hannah Fox’s ‘Our Moon’ – the animation that temporarily resides on the walls of Durham Castle. At first glance, it appears as merely an animation of the moon. However, Fox has created the moon using a compilation of the faces of 80 local Durham residents, of ages between five and 78. Four different moons were created in total, meant to represent childhood, youth, maturity, and wisdom, with a different one being displayed each evening. Lumiere consequently becomes personal to the viewer; you could explore other cities’ light festivals, but how many of those will be created from the faces of people that you pass on Durham’s cobbled streets or who order coffee in the same café as you?

What also distinguishes Lumiere from the thousands of other art exhibitions is that it invites art into our streets. It weaves itself into our lives, in a creative and unique way. Lumiere proves that art isn’t always a smattering of oil paint on a canvas, hung up inside of an eerie building, where it’s not okay to be loud and to share ideas. Lumiere gives us the chance to be bold and noisy and talk about art in the street. It lets art become part of the fabric of the daily grind. It passes you when you hurry to lectures and it stays with you when you wander back home. It lets art escape the confinement of galleries and lets it flourish in harmony with our everyday lives.

‘Floating Pictures’ has set up an interactive installation on North Road, namely, ‘Colour by Light’. It uses technology that lets you take the torch from your phone to colour in the pavement. Other exhibitions like ‘Illumaphonium’ create a multi-sensory experience where you, the viewer, are encouraged to touch the sculpture to activate the music. Lumiere is anchored on art that involves you, because art is nothing without its audience.

Lumiere has given the North East a presence in the UK art scene. If art were a currency, then London would be the richest city in the UK. With its streets lined with world-famous galleries, such as the Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert, London has a brilliant and diverse variety of art. In contrast, the North East is known to receive less funding for art projects than many other areas in the country. With similar light show exhibitions being put on across the world, Lumiere sneaks Durham into this global trend and puts it on the map for art-seeking tourists.

Lumiere knows that art is nothing without its audience

The Lumiere festival is branded as the UK’s largest light festival, which has caused it to draw in tourists from cities in both this country and abroad. For some, Lumiere is purely an abundance of annoying crowds. However, for others, it gives the local community an economic and tourism boost.

London is also set to host a ‘Lumiere’ festival in January 2018. With a high budget, it’s set to be an extravagant show of lights. It is evident that the light show trend is spreading, and this trend needs to stay alight. Though only lasting for a few days, projects like Lumiere allow us to briefly live amongst art and realise that anywhere can provide artistic inspiration – we just need to allow it to.

Lumiere sucks and I hate it

By Samuel Betley

Like many a boyfriend this weekend, I was forced to endure the biennial extravaganza that is Durham’s Lumiere. While the local press promised numerous unmissable light installations, the reality was, inevitably, disappointing. Perhaps the clue is in the central feature itself. Light. Since when has this been a cause for celebration? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that light has existed for billions of years, will exist for billions more, and doesn’t gain any value just because it now comes in (arguably) pretty colours.

I have vague memories of the last instalment when, as a dewy-eyed Fresher, I was taken in by the plethora of cheap thrills. But truth be told, a large part of its appeal was the meaning lent to it by the Paris terror attacks that took place days previously. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would have preferred another mediocre event and no murder across the Channel. And at least the 2015 event was relatively self-contained.

Since when has light been a cause for celebration?

Which brings me to my first complaint. As if the Ogden Building hadn’t given me enough trouble in first year by making my walk from Grey College to the Science Site 30 seconds longer. Now we’re all expected to watch it light up in an array of mind-bending colours for five minutes. And enjoy it?! Fat chance. Also, as someone who pays £9000 a year for six contact hours every week, it’s laughable that this unnecessarily loud display starts at 4pm, during one of those rare instances. Who knows how much it costs to put the Physics Department through this humiliating ritual, but at least my money is going somewhere, right?

Two years ago, Lumiere attracted upwards of 200,000 people to Durham over four days, with an estimated economic benefit of £9.6 million. But is this worth the absolute misery it inflicts on thousands more? One only has to witness the volunteer stewards hiding behind their hi-vis jackets, clearly terrified that a visitor might talk to them. These hardy North-East folk do a good job of pretending that they love standing still in the biting cold. But in reality, they hate it just as much as everyone else. Visitor numbers will undoubtedly be even higher this year. But more people just means more queues. Somehow, being underwhelmed by a light display after waiting for ages to view it is uniquely soul-crushing.

It will come as no surprise then, that the painfully slow walk into town was not followed by anything worthwhile. I have no idea what the mid-air merry-go-round next to Elvet Bridge was trying to achieve, but it failed miserably. The unimaginative – and suspiciously festive – structure in the Market Square had already annoyed me, seeing as its presence meant that the Greek food van couldn’t do business last weekend. Life without their Gyros Pitta on a Saturday lunchtime is not a life worth living. Millennium Place was equally underwhelming. I always enjoy the witty projection of the time when I’m passing through, but this has been usurped by a periodic table of emotions. The idea was to identify an emotion with #LumiereFeels – what about bored? Disappointed? If only the ‘artist’ responsible had the sense of humour to include these – wholly appropriate – responses. Events took a slight upturn with the Fire Tornado, if only for the provision of warmth.

Was confusion meant to be this year’s theme?

However, when it comes to disappointment, Palace Green really took the proverbial biscuit. In 2015, the projection of the French flag onto the Cathedral lent the event poignancy and a much-needed sense of meaning. The high quality of the accompanying display also helped. I don’t know if confusion was meant to be this year’s theme, but here was yet another bewildering exhibit. Something to do with the bells? I’ve got no idea, and I suspect nobody else does either. Add the slightly creepy image of the moon on the Castle, and it completes the picture of an utterly pointless diversion.

So there we have it. After waiting two years for Lumiere to return, maybe the disappointment was inevitable. But still, I don’t think it was too much to expect better than this. The Botanic Garden looked cool, though.

Photographs: Zoë Boothby 

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