January usually has little going for it (unless you’re a pluviophile, that is), so I was naturally rather excited when I spotted a column in Time Out heralding the return of Lumiere London. (We’ll gloss over the fact that they’ve nabbed a French word so as to have an alliterative event name and then butchered the spelling of it.) Commissioned by the Mayor of London, this city-wide event sees installations of all shapes and sizes illuminate the capital in glorious technicolour. Clusters of projections, neons and suspended sculptures bring a new dimension to the capital’s iconic buildings, streets and landmarks (and a fair number of lesser-frequented spots, too).
Related: Fête des Lumières
From King’s Cross to South Bank, I spent two nights zig-zagging across the city, custom map in hand, trying to spot as many of these twinkling treasures as possible. Beforehand, Laurence and I had put our heads together and grouped installations into three categories: must-see; worth a minor detour; and missable. (On an event of this scale, it’s impossible to see the lot, so we had to be realistic about how much ground we could cover.) I left with a few firm favourites, namely ‘Aquarium’, ‘Guardian Angels’ and ‘The Light of the Spirit’, but also couldn’t help but feel that – as enjoyable as it was – Lumiere London wasn’t quite in the same league as Lyon’s Fête des Lumières.
Here are my highlights from seven-odd hours spent freezing my tootsies off exploring Lumiere London . . .
#1 | Tucked behind Granary Square, ‘Entre les Rangs’ was one of the first installations I saw. Designed by Rami Bebawi/KANVA, this minimalistic installation mimics sheaves of wheat swaying in the breeze and shimmering under a rainbow of light. Passages through the makeshift field of wheat enabled visitors to wander through it and enjoy it from all angles.
#2 | ‘Guardian Angels’ was a neat little creation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitri Xenakis, and one of my absolute favourites. Suspended in mid-air, these brightly coloured watering cans appear to be pouring water onto the flowerbeds below – only the water is actually fibre optic wire.
#3 | Down by the river, we found ‘The Wave’, an interactive installation comprising forty luminous triangular gates. Vertigo’s creation, which made its début at Frost Festival 2017 in Copenhagen, responds to movement both sonically and visually, enabling visitors to be the architects of their own experience. (When we first walked past, I was able to take this shot of the installation sans visiteurs; later, it was jam-packed with people.)
#4 | Patrice Warrener’s kaleidoscopic projection ‘The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2)’ made Westminster Abbey look positively regal – as befits a lieu which has witnessed many a coronation and royal wedding. I loved how the bright colours picked out the intricate details of the façades. If you attended the 2016 Fêtes des Lumières and think you’re having déjà-vu, you are: this talented light artist was behind ‘Fontaine d’Étoiles.
#5 | ‘The Rose’ was a rose window with a twist – and a fun, engaging and eco-friendly one at that. Dozens of bikes were hooked up to the installation, and if you wanted to see this quirky rose window light up, you had to pedal for it! Hats-off to Mick Stephenson for creating an installation which not only engaged local communities in its creation, but also the visitors at the festival.
#6 | Benedetto Bufalino and Benoit Deseille’s ‘Aquarium’ transformed the iconic red telephone box into an aquatic dwelling filled with exotic fish. I love the philosophy that underpins these artists’ work – the idea of experimenting with the fabric of urban spaces, moving things around, finding new functionality in spaces and objects.
#7 | Just off Carnaby Street, we spotted James Glancy’s ‘The Plug and Bulbs’, a permanent installation with its very own special light show for four nights (and four nights only).
#8 | ‘Neon Bikes’ was the creation of Lumiere Durham 2015’s BRILLIANT winner, Robyn Wright. Simplistic yet effective, this trio of bicycles – in red, white and blue – was a novel take on one of the nation’s favourite modes of transport.