Stuart Forster takes a look at the Lumiere Durham festival of lights.
The 2019 Lumiere Durham festival of lights took place from the 14th to 17th November. Lumiere’s tenth anniversary saw 37 light installations displayed around Durham City. After viewing them I interviewed Helen Marriage, the event’s artistic director.
Now established as a biennial event, Lumiere has attracted more than a million people onto Durham’s streets during its six editions.
I’ve visited all of them, photographing the installations each time. The first Lumiere Durham, back in 2009, featured just 22. This year’s was the biggest yet, both in the number of works shown and their distribution across the city.
Those projected onto the façade of Durham Cathedral are always an interesting challenge to photograph due to their scale and the changing light levels. This year Stones by Tigrelab Art was projected from Palace Green onto the Romanesque façade.
The return of installations
The tenth anniversary involved a return for several previously exhibited installations.
Spirit, a flaming work by Compaigne Carabosse, was first shown at the Lumiere Durham of 2011. This year it returned to the cloister of Durham Cathedral and College Green.
Echelle, a glowing neon ladder designed by Ron Haselden, returned to a yard on Saddler Street ten years on from its first appearance.
Over the decade of Lumiere Durham no single installation has impressed me more than Mysticète by Top’la Design and Catherine Garret. The dramatic work features a projection of a whale, making it appear as if the cetacean breached then crashed back into the River Wear. In 2015 it drew crowds to the Elvet Bridge. This year Mysticète was near Pennyferry Bridge.
An interview with Helen Marriage
Lumiere Durham is organised by Artichoke Trust. To find out more about the event, I put a series of questions to Helen Marriage, Artichoke’s CEO and the Lumiere Artistic Director. Her answers follow the questions below:
The first Lumiere Durham might have been a one-off event — how come we’re enjoying a Lumiere 10 years on?
Lumiere Durham in 2009 really struck a chord with audiences. We were expecting around 40,000 people and over 75,000 turned up in that first year. It showed that there was a huge appetite for the festival.
We’ve built up a great relationship with our commissioner Durham County Council over the last 10 years and Lumiere really is a partnership with them.
The people of Durham have taken the festival into their hearts and feel a strong sense of ownership now after six editions.
Local businesses also support the festival and we couldn’t make it happen without them.
It’s become a highly anticipated event on the biennial cultural calendar and last year’s festival saw nearly a quarter of a million visitors over four days.
How do you feel on returning to Durham 10 years on from the first Lumiere?
As excited and pleased to be here as we were in 2009. Durham really is a perfect little city for a light festival.
The festival has grown of course, and the city is always being reconfigured, so it’s always fun to look for new locations on which to place the works.
Why has Lumiere Durham been a success?
It’s a partnership and it’s about involving the local community. Over the years, we’ve worked with thousands of young people and Durham residents, who take part in community workshops and schools’ projects, and interactive and participative artworks.
Keys of Light by Dutch artists Mr. Beam has 160 local people aged between 10 years to 84, playing the piano to generate patterned projections onto the surrounding buildings at Rushford Court.
Since 2011, we have run a local commissioning scheme called BRILLIANT which invites local artists to pitch their ideas for an installation and we work with the winners to help them make their ideas reality and showcase them in the festival.
Our new commissioning agreement with Durham County Council includes working with communities in our ‘off’ year and earlier this year we produced Apollo 50 by artists Mader-Wiermann, a projection piece on the Brutalist Apollo Pavilion at Peterlee. As part of this project a group of East Durham College students have now been trained in video projection and we’re really proud of the piece they’ve made, Lift Off, which is being showcased at Lumiere this year.
What are the main challenges of putting on Lumiere in Durham City?
We pride ourselves on our extremely high production values. The Lumiere installations should appear as if by magic out of the darkness. The audience experience should be seamless. While the pieces look simple this is technically very challenging to achieve, and some installations are more difficult than others.
This year, I’d say our most technically challenging piece is Geometrical Traces by Javier Riera, a very complex projection onto trees on the banks of the River Wear based on the Fibonacci sequence which explores the connection between geometry and nature.
Lumiere events have also been held in Londonderry and London. What role did the events held in Durham have in sparking those?
Lumiere was born in Durham in 2009 and became a blueprint for later festivals elsewhere.
Each festival is different as all the installations are site specific and respond to the cityscape, such as buildings, bridges and rivers. But Durham always feels like home.
In what way is the 2019 Lumiere Durham different to its predecessors?
Lumiere is different each time. But as 2019 is the tenth anniversary of Lumiere in Durham, it was the perfect opportunity to bring back some of the favourite works from previous editions and exhibit them alongside a host of new pieces.
Some of the returning works have toured in the intervening years. Others, like Jacques Rival’s I Love Durham have been in storage since they were last exhibited, so it’s great to be able to share these again with audiences in Durham in 2019.
A night out in Durham
Visiting Lumiere can be the catalyst for enjoying a night in Durham and having a couple of drinks and a meal in one of the city’s restaurants.
This year I kept things simple, grabbing a portion of fish and chips from Bells (#gifted). I sat at the market place, eating them while viewing Jacques Rival’s I Love Durham.
Travel to Lumiere Durham
Park and ride, with a £2 per person shuttle fare, was an option for people travelling to Durham by car.
I chose to travel into Durham by rail from Newcastle, a 12-minute journey. Durham is approximately three hours from London King’s Cross on LNER trains and less than two hours’ from Edinburgh.
Visiting Lumiere Durham involved plenty of walking so comfortable shoes proved a good choice of footwear.
See the Lumiere Festival website for more information about the festival of lights. A Lumiere Durham app was developed for the 2019 edition, to help visitors navigate around the city and the event’s 37 installations.
The This is Durham website features information on things to do an see across County Durham.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which is based in northeast England and can be contacted on 07947 587136.
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