Lumiere returned to Durham, United Kingdom, with a special 10th anniversary programme, and transformed the streets of the city with its spectacular, dazzling artworks. The festival took place from November 14-17, 2019. Organised by Artichoke, one of the country’s leading creative companies that is funded by the Arts Council England, the festival featured 37 light-based works in outdoor settings by artists from across the world. The highlights of the Lumiere festival included a magical fogscape, super-sized slinky, and innovative projection onto a tree canopy exploring the connection between geometry and nature.
Here, STIR speaks with Helen Marriage, Director of Artichoke, the producers of Lumiere; and Artistic Director of Lumiere, UK’s largest light festival, who takes us over the festival’s concept, highlights, popularity, and challenges in organising it.
Sukanya Garg (SG): Could you talk about the kind of impact Lumiere Durham festival has had in the community of Durham? How has the turnout been? How did viewers react?
Helen Marriage (HM): Lumiere started off as a one-off event 10 years ago. We never intended for it to become a permanent fixture. However, it really struck a chord with local residents and the response towards the festival was overwhelmingly positive. With each edition of the festival our audience has grown; in 2009, the first Lumiere festival in Durham attracted 75,000 visitors over four nights and at the last edition in 2017, it was estimated that 240,000 visitors attended.
SG: How is this edition of the Lumiere Durham different from the previous ones?
HM: 2019 is the tenth anniversary of Lumiere in Durham, and our sixth edition. In celebration of this, we decided to bring back some of the favourite works from previous editions, as well as many new commissions. Some of the returning works have toured in the intervening year. Others, like Jacques Rival's very popular I Love Durham have been in storage, so it's great to be able to share these again with audiences in Durham in 2019.
SG: Could you talk about some of the highlights this year?
HM: There are 37 artworks in total, making this the largest Durham Lumiere ever. Highlights include Javier Riera’s mesmerising Geometrical Traces, a projection onto trees on the banks of the River Wear based on the Fibonacci sequence, which explores the connection between geometry and nature.
Another is Wave-Field Variation H, a series of glowing seesaws the audience can have a go on, and Wave - an immersive experience which uses 500 motion sensing lights and 500 voices, created by Squidsoup, who have previously designed work for Burning Man festival and DJ Four Tet.
SG: Could you talk about some of the interactive light-based works with examples? How did they involve people? What was the concept behind them? What kind of technology was used in their creation?
HM: Keys of Light by Dutch collective Mr Beam involved an open call for pianists of all ages and abilities. Each note played on the grand piano generates a projection on the facade of Rushford Court, transforming the building into a spectacle of shape-shifting patterns responding to the tone, speed, volume of the live music. 160 participants aged from 10 to 84 have signed up to play their favourite pieces on the piano.
Another of our interactive installations this year is Stones, created by the French-Spanish company Tigrelab. It’s a shape-shifting video-mapped projection onto the facade of Durham Cathedral, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Audience members can influence the projection by manipulating four stone controllers, incidentally made from the same stone as the Cathedral itself, and the more the stones are touched the more intricate the projection becomes.
SG: What is the most challenging aspect of organising a festival like this?
HM: The festival is in the planning for around two years. We work closely with our commissioner Durham County Council and local institutions such as Durham University and Durham Cathedral, and fundraise from around 80 sponsors. There are so many aspects to bring together, from thinking about which artworks might work where, to inviting artists over for site visits, and building and installing the artworks. Javier Riera’s Geometrical Traces is probably the most technically challenging piece this year. Our production values are very high – we want the installations to appear completely seamless, as if they have been conjured by magic out of Durham’s darkness.