Lumière Durham Light Festival: A Review

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Lumière is a magical, nocturnal festival of lights hosted by Durham City for 4 nights during November. The display is created by a company called Artichoke, one of the UK’s leading art producers and will subsequently be displayed in London from 14th-17th January 2016. If you have the opportunity to visit the capital before the start of term, it’s a highly recommended New Year’s treat.

The historical city of Durham is the birthplace of Lumière, Despite being planned originally as a one-off event in 2009, it has grown to become the UK’s biggest light festival. The event returns bi-annually and attracts an increasing number of visitors every year it occurs: 75,000 in 2009, doubling to 150,000 in 2011, and 175,000 in 2013. Tourists travel from all over the country to see the wondrous late-night spectacle that is now considered to be an important cultural landmark in the North-East.

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The downside is that periodic funding for the festival is not completely secure, so it is never certain that the festival will re-occur. However, given that the economic benefits of the 2013 festival were thought to exceed £5.8 million, it’s well worth the original investment: £1.5 million in 2011, £1.4 million in 2013, and £1.7 million in 2015. The event is partially funded by Arts Council England (500,000 this year) with Durham City Council usually agreeing to match the amount, and the rest obtained through other sponsors.

But, I’m not sure the budget necessarily reflects in the overall quality of the event. Compared to Lumière 2013, the festival seemed less organised this year – somewhat chaotic and lacking imagination. It was difficult to navigate the installations due to the confusing barrier systems and lack of attendants, and I was unable to obtain a map of the locations which were previously given out for free at the sites. The university had much less involvement this year, so the majority of illuminations were concentrated around the central area.

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The ticket zone was badly managed and congested, and blockages made it impossible to get round all of the 29 installations. The incredible light projection on the front of the majestic cathedral was brilliant as ever: a truly immersive experience combining sound with evocative visual images. Equally stunning were the light displays inside the cathedral – elaborate projects of ‘Complex Meshes’ on the interior arches and huge rosary window inspired ‘Litre of Light’ in the cloister. I was less impressed by the other works, such as the giant plants and flowers in the ‘Garden of Light’, the rather uninspiring wave, and the ‘Rainbow River’, which all seemed to lack the conceptual creativity and imagination of previous years. Although, I must admit I was fairly amused by the gimmicky ‘Tour-de-France’, with its bikes in red, white and blue neon tubes.

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Overall, Lumière is an amazing nocturnal adventure, and well worth a trip up to Durham, or down to London to experience the fantastic event. Their only downfall is that they may have set the bar too high in previous years. Still, I am greatly anticipating my next trip to Durham in 2017.

Click here, if you’re interested in finding out more about Lumière in London 2016. 

Photo: Madeleina Kay

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