This November, the biennial light festival, ‘Lumiere’, displayed over 37 live art installations across the city of Durham. The organisers of the festival were keen to expand the project’s geographical and architectural scope this year, illuminating more features than ever before.
The festival used collaboration as its primary source of inspiration, pulling together artists from across the globe and local talent. Verses from a partnership between Durham University and New Writing North, for example, were projected onto Durham Castle. At the same time, a "video-mapped journey from reflection to celebration" was displayed on Durham Cathedral’s 1000-year-old visage.
Notably, last year lacked a Lumiere Festival amidst fears that it would encourage too many crowds to gather during the second lockdown. Helen Marriage, one of this year’s festival’s directors, highlighted how, "The turbulence of the past 18 months is addressed in several works, from memorial to optimistic opening, while the overarching issue of climate change and its environmental impact are huge influences on Lumiere artists this year.”
This is also the first year that Lumiere expanded beyond the city and into County Durham itself. The festival has been extended into the online realm to encourage the further coming together of an international community.
For example, at the lakeside of Raby Castle, 3D abstract projections illuminated the water. At Penshaw Monument, a touching Covid-19 memorial has been designed through the projections of a single breath of air. And at Ushaw House, the ‘Hymn to the Big Wheel’ installation played coloured shadows against each other.
The annual project is supported by the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, awarded to Durham County Council. As part of their aims, many of the installations saw a merging of the old and new, the traditional and the modern.
Meanwhile, local residents from County Durham worked with artists from the Lantern Company to create the ‘City of Stories’ installation on College Green. Community groups contributed to a hanging flowers installation designed from reused household plastic.
But what of the decision to use a whole city as an art gallery? To use medieval architecture as a modern canvas?
From a practical perspective, it makes sense to use November as Lumiere’s time period. With skies dark from 4 pm, the glory of the festival is easily expanded. But from an ideological perspective, it is also one of the coldest and most miserable times of the year - the perfect moment to bring people together in the depths of winter.
And to see ancient buildings repurposed for a new era is a delightful way of maintaining the relevance of history to the community. The festival may be ticketed to aid crowd control, but there is no denying that the human effect was of great benefit to the festival’s atmosphere. It demonstrated the power of art to unite a community, to bring an atmosphere of shared wonderment to a simple city.
Lumiere is, therefore, the perfect example of art as action, of art as part of a community’s canvas. It is a shame the installations are only displayed for four days.
If you live in the North East, this is not a festival to miss. It has no desire other than to spark joy through light in a dark time of year. It is the ideal cure for the hangover of lockdown.