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London’s Dark Winter Illuminated

Ameera Iqbal, BA International Relations and History

Last weekend, the first ever lights festival to hit the capital took place with London’s iconic buildings and locations illuminated by 30 jaw-dropping installations.

Taking inspiration from the Fete Des Lumieres festival held annually in Lyon, France, Lumiere London featured installations, large scale video-mapped projections and interactive artwork from artists around the globe. Lumiere’s slogan was ‘see the city in a new light,’ and produced by Artichoke, a registered charity that aims to produce ‘large scale events that appeal to the widest possible audience,’ and supported by the Mayor of London, the festival took place during some of the year’s gloomiest winter days: the 14th-16th January from 6:30-10:30pm.

Floating Pictures' Light Graffiti in Kings Cross
Floating Pictures’ Light Graffiti in Kings Cross

The installations were split into four main areas: Kings Cross, Mayfair, Piccadilly/Regent’s Street/St. James Park and Trafalgar Square/Westminister. Volunteers were stationed at each location, where they distributed festival maps, glow-sticks and at some locations, candyfloss.

The King’s Cross area had the most installations in one location, including a 100 metre ‘tunnel of light,’ illuminated silhouette dresses and a sculpture made of interlocking glowing rectangles. Two of the most popular installations here were ‘Light Graffiti,’ an interactive piece that allowed the public to use torches from their phones to paint onto the surroundings, and a circus performance, the ‘Circus of Light,’ projected onto the Granary Building.

Mayfair and Grosvenor Square featured digital artwork by artist Elaine Buckholtz in which Van Gogh’s painting ‘All Night Café’ was re-image through the use of light and music. Also popular in this area was Benedetto and Benoit’s ‘Aquarium,’ a red phone booth turned into an aquarium featuring actual goldfish.

Oxford Circus contained a hard-to-miss colossal net sculpture, held together between two buildings. Janet Echelman, the artist behind the work, has said she took inspiration from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami to create the piece.

Janet Echelman's 1.8 London in Oxford Circus
Janet Echelman’s 1.8 London in Oxford Circus

St. James Square saw French artist Cedric Le Borgne’s illuminated figures of light, ‘The Travellers,’ while Leicester Square was home to a ‘Garden of Light,’ with large illuminated plant installations made of recycled materials. Some pieces ended up being so popular that they will remain permanent installations – this is the case with Julian Opie’s LED piece ‘Shaida Walking’ located on Broadwick Street in Carnaby.

Trafalgar Square and Westminister were also filled with crowds during the festival, with the Trafalgar Square foundation being illuminated by Luzinterrupts’ ‘Plastic Islands,’  featuring recycled pieces re-imagined into glowing plastic islands. Westminister Abby was highlighted with multi-coloured martyrs created by Patrick Warrener, an artist acclaimed for his technicolour lights displayed on buildings.

Luzinterruptus' Plastic Islands in Trafalgar Square
Luzinterruptus’ Plastic Islands in Trafalgar Square

Londoners themselves played a role in the creation of this festival; be it donating recycled materials to the ‘Plastic Islands’ or ‘Garden of Light’ installations; or appearing in the ‘Circus of Light’ projection in Kings Cross; hundreds of Londoners were able to experience the festival with a personal touch. Some children even took part in workshops around the area to help create the ‘Joining the Dots’ and ‘Litre of Light’ installations featured at Kings Cross.

Lumiere London’s first year managed to be highly successful with over 1 million people in attendance. Installations were even shut down early on the 15th due to overcrowding. The only question that remains now is, will next year’s festival be able to top this?

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