Durham becomes a gallery: introducing the Lumiere Festival

Polly Checkland Harding

Durham’s celebration of light transforms the city into a gallery.

Over the past decade, there has been a notable rise in immersive arts experiences: from interactive theatre to themed dining, creative companies are increasingly seeking to bring their audience into the performance. Yet city-wide installations on the scale of say, Liverpool’s 2012 Sea Odyssey, remain relatively unusual. This is in part due to the huge organisation that such art events demand, but it’s a gap in the market that ambitious arts company Artichoke is unafraid to fill. This is, for instance, the company responsible for manoeuvring the 37 tonne, mechanical spider known as La Machine through Liverpool during its year as Capital of Culture. And this year, Artichoke has again been commissioned by Durham city council to curate the third Lumiere Festival, a luminous, nocturnal art trail that takes place over four nights in November.

The chance to see a phone booth fish tank, fibre-optic dresses & 3D elephant

One appeal of Lumiere is that visitors are granted their own creative power: with nearly thirty different light related works scattered around Durham, locals and out-of-towners alike have the chance to choose their own route. Go along and you will have the opportunity to see Benedetto Bufalino and Benoit Deseille’s phone booth fish tank, outsized, fibre-optic dresses by Taegon Kim, and Top’là Design’s 3D projection of an elephant. All the exhibit locations can be found on the website’s interactive programme map, which also displays places to eat, drink and stay along with parking and access information. Even here, visitors can choose options to suit them.

“This year’s Lumiere Durham programme will combine the high octane excitement of pieces such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Solar Equation, a giant maquette of the sun 100 million times smaller than the real thing, with moments of quiet contemplation,” says Helen Marriage, Lumiere’s Artistic Director. “Lumiere sets out to amaze, delight and stop people in their tracks.” With an estimated revenue of £5.8 million generated to date, Lumiere’s impact extends far beyond a short-term, visual reinvention of a city. Exhibits such as Maro Avrabou and Dimitri Xenakis’ Greenhouse Effect, for which cars have been filled with brightly lit artificial plants, for example, highlight the damaging effect of the vehicle on the environment and thus seeks to influence the values that visitors walk away with.

Lumiere makes the familiar unfamiliar and asks us to question our relationship to everyday objects and places. Attend the festival this year to experience the illuminating effects that immersive art can have.

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