Will Lumiere Durham return in 2025?

Stuart Forster visits Durham Cathedral ahead of Lumiere Durham in 2023 and speaks with Helen Marriage, Artistic Director of Artichoke, and Jessica Blanchet, Production Manager for Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, about the popular festival of lights.

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Hundreds of hanging lights pulsate in time with the rhythmic thumping of a heartbeat. Helen Marriage, Artistic Director of Artichoke – the organisation that produces the Lumiere Durham light art biennial – jokes that it’s like having a medical examination in public.

Onlookers gaze up at the 4,500 lightbulbs forming Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation Pulse Typology. Their luminosity falls and rises, illuminating the nave of Durham Cathedral and hulking stone pillars sculpted approximately 900 years ago.

Pulse Typology in Durham

Jessica Blanchet describes her role as the “production manager for Rafael” and explains, “Pulse Typology is part of the Pulse series, which are artworks that are all based on people’s heartbeats. It is a big library of heart rates from all the visitors who come and experience the piece through sensors that are spread throughout the artwork.”

“Once you put your hand under one of them the technology will find your heart rate and then will show it through all of these bulbs and store it so that you can share this very public space with thousands of other people through something as very intimate as your heart rate,” she adds, explaining that this work has never previously been shown in this format.

“What happens is that all the Pulse pieces, they kind of adapt to the space that they’re shown in. And so what we call Typology is the curving. The design of these light bulbs will change according to where it is shown and how it is shown. So it’s a very different experience every time,” she elucidates.

The piece has taken more than 10 days to install. It is one of 40 artworks in the 2023 edition of Lumiere Durham, the eighth incarnation of the popular festival of light first held in 2009. All 120,000 of the free tickets providing public access to Durham’s city centre between 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm on the four nights of the 2023 Lumiere Durham were reserved well in advance of the autumn event. Many more visitors are anticipated after 7.30 pm and to the installations outside of the city centre.

Illuminated arches form Adam Frenlin's Inner Cloister at Lumiere Durham in 2023.
Illuminated arches form Adam Frenlin’s Inner Cloister at Lumiere Durham in 2023.

Treasures at Durham Cathedral

Artworks by Chila Burman and Ai Weiwei feature in Lumiere Durham 2023. Weiwei’s chandelier-like Bottle Rack is displayed in the cathedral’s chapter house. Inner Cloister, illuminated arches designed by Adam Frenlin, glows a matter of paces away. Meanwhile, Javier Riera’s Liquid Geometry is projected onto the façade of the ancient place of worship and neighbouring buildings on Palace Green.

I ask Helen Marriage how she explains the longevity of Lumiere Durham and – fittingly, given our location – she doesn’t miss a beat before answering: “I think it’s primarily about the people. It’s about the stakeholders and supporters that we have here who consistently support it even in times when it’s very difficult to imagine making this huge effort and spending money on art.”

“The council, the cathedral, the university and the Arts Council, they’re all really committed to giving the people of this region this extraordinary moment,” she continues, explaining that it’s become part of the community. More than 300 volunteers help ensure the event runs smoothly while more than 1,800 local adults and schoolchildren participate in five projects.

“This is the only place I’ve ever been where everybody uses the word installation and they’re not talking about plumbing. People use it as a word that describes the artworks,” adds Artichoke’s Artistic Director.

Lumiere Durham in Bishop Auckland

Realising it’s akin to asking a parent to choose their best-loved child, I ask if she has a particular favourite among the works displayed.

“I think everyone has different favourites,” she responds, sidestepping a direct answer. “Somebody yesterday told me that something that we’ve done a few years ago was rubbish. And then somebody today said the best thing we’d ever done was exactly the same piece. So everyone has their favourites, everyone has their memories. It’s partly about who you share the experience with and what you’re feeling at the time. I think that it has this amazing ability to take people to another place.”

That prompts me to ask about the artworks on display in Bishop Auckland. They include Daniel Canogar’s Amalgama Spanish Gallery and Phil Supple’s The Drop on Auckland Tower.

“We were asked if we could programme outside the city, somewhere in the county, and Bishop Auckland has this amazing programme of transformation. So we’re working with the Auckland Project to bring four installations there to the marketplace,” explains Helen.

Will Lumiere Durham return for a ninth time in 2025? I ask.

“Who knows? It’s a long way away,” she answers.

Let’s see if the lights go out on Lumiere Durham or whether the event will shine again.

Ai Wiewei's Illuminated Bottle Rack in Durham Cathedral's chapter house during the 2023 Lumiere Durham festival of lights.
Ai Wiewei’s Illuminated Bottle Rack in Durham Cathedral’s chapter house during the 2023 Lumiere Durham festival of lights.

Video about Lumiere

Watch this video for further insights into the 2023 Lumiere Durham festival of lights:

Video introducing the 2023 edition of Lumiere Durham.

Lumiere Durham

Lumiere Durham 2023 took place from 16-19 November. For further information about the festival, visit the Lumiere Durham website.

Hotels in Durham City

Find accommodation in Durham City via Booking.com:

Travel to Durham City

Durham is on the United Kingdom’s East Coast Mail Line. It is possible to travel by train between London and Durham in less than three hours.

Zoom in or out of the map to find points of interest in and around Durham City:

Google Map of Durham City.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer. His work has been published by the likes of National Geographic Traveller, The Independent and Love Exploring.

The photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

Thanks for reading this post about the 2023 Lumiere Durham. You may enjoy my post about visiting Lumiere Durham. Looking for somewhere to eat in Durham City? Check out this interview with chef Rauri Mackay of Coarse restaurant in Durham.

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