Lumiere 2023: the UK’s light art biennial returns


As I go into my final year at Durham, I often find myself reminiscing on the various experiences of my time at university thus far. This subconscious retrospectivity, more often than not, brings to mind the best parts of my time at Durham over the last couple of years, highlighting what Durham has to offer to its student body. One of the most pertinent examples of this phenomenon, which comes to mind rather regularly for me, is that of Lumiere 2021.

One month into my first term, Lumiere took Durham by storm. With 37 illuminated artworks spread across the city and the wider county, there was a smorgasbord of attractions for visitors, with the pinnacle being the transformation of Durham Cathedral’s façade into a shifting canvas on which Palma Studio’s In Our Hearts Blind Hope was displayed. Wandering around this so called “nocturnal art experience” with a dozen friends from my first-year corridor has been well and truly ingrained into my recent memory and I can’t wait to see what is in store for Lumiere 2023.

Wandering around this so called “nocturnal art experience” has been well and truly ingrained into my recent memory

Spread across four nights, from 16–19 November, Lumiere 2023 promises to showcase the work of 30 artists spread around the city and wider county. Highlights of this year’s light art biennial include Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei’s Illuminated Bottle Rack (2018) and one of the UK’s leading visual artists, Chila Burman MBE, with the exhibiting of a joyful, new commission entitled Hurts So Good (2023).

I’m particularly excited to see Weiwei’s Illuminated Bottle Rack which will be installed in the Chapter House of Durham Cathedral, which is not usually open to the public, but is a dramatically majestic space that has been seen by millions around the world in the Harry Potter movie franchise as Professor McGonagall’s classroom. This sense of drama is carried forward in the material makeup of Weiwei’s Illuminated Bottle Rack through the incorporation of 61 glitzy antique chandeliers.

The world is a very different place now from what it was two years ago as we collectively clambered out of a Covid-infested society. Thus, in contrast to Lumiere 2021, this year’s event will illuminate a hybrid-indoor-outdoor setup without the limitations of mask wearing and virus spreading which is a huge relief to the organisers and attendees alike. The pinnacle of Lumiere 2023 will be Quebec-Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s colossal and immersive Pulse Topology (2021) which will transform the nave of Durham Cathedral into the pulsating heart of the light festival. Composed of thousands of light bulbs, each will be activated by the recorded heartbeat of visitors, contributing to a glimmering, connective array underneath which audiences will walk.

It will undoubtedly form one of the most magical memories you will create whilst at Durham

Since its conception in 2009, which was initially planned as a one-off event, Lumiere continues to wow visitors biannually with its takeover and transformation of Durham’s medieval cobbled streets and UNESCO World Heritage Site. As an organisation, Lumiere ticks a whole host of boxes surrounding environmentalism, sustainability, and representation. This year, Lumiere are more committed than ever to addressing climate injustice and reducing the environmental impact of their activities and to also influence their artists and suppliers to do the same. The range of artists spotlighted through Lumiere is also commendable as there is a global spectrum, from internationally renowned names right down to local predominantly undiscovered artists.

All in all, Lumiere 2023 looks to be a thrilling festival of light, adding to their already irrefutably magical reputation. What makes it even better is that entry is completely free for all attendees so there is no excuse not to register for your free ticket and to experience the luminescent magic for yourself.  Speaking from my own personal experience, it will undoubtedly form one of the most magical memories you will create whilst at Durham and it is certainly a special tradition that we should all mark in our calendars.

Image credit: Ai Weiwei Studios via Lumiere Press Pack

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