Lumiere London roundup

Crowds at Lumeire
Above: Lumiere. Below: crowds

Skip to review of Dinosaur Park

Before I develop too much of a backlog again, let’s do a roundup of Lumiere’s first ever festival in London. This is going to be a relatively quick roundup as it’s already been written about extensively in the London papers, and where I’ve written my thoughts about something in my Durham coverage, I generally won’t be repeating it here. But I do have a few new thoughts this venture to the capital.

Without further ado, let’s go:

Overall impression:

As a veteran of four Lumiere Durhams, my verdict is going to be heavily based on a comparison with the original. So the first thing I can report is that there were, if you like, two Lumiere Londons. One of them was a festival spread out over an area around Piccadilly. The other one was a slightly smaller but much tighter collections of installations around King’s Cross St. Pancras, which railway nerds will know is the big regeneration area the followed the mega-redevelopment of both stations.

For a number of reasons, I preferred the latter location. For a start, this happened to be where there were the most of the new installations that I liked. I liked some of the ones in the Piccadilly area too, but most of my favourites over there were ones that I’d already seen in Durham. But the other things was that the businesses around Kings Cross had clearly made a lot of effort off their own back, and their little touches did a lot of give it a proper festival feel.

The big question, though, was whether Londoners would take to Lumiere like Durham has. After all, Lumiere London is in competition with plenty of other festivals. Well, the answer has to be a resounding yes. There were big crowds who came to see the festival, and my unscientific sample of punters I earwigged told me it went down very well. The media coverage was also overwhelmingly positive. Then only problem? It was, if anything, too popular. I will return to this shortly.

Festival highlights:

This is going to be a quick run-down. I won’t be repeating things I’ve already covered in Durham – if you want to read about that, you can do that here and here. I also won’t be repeating things from my pre-festival recommendations, which you can see here. Here are the new things that impressed me the most:

The Light of the Spirit

Westminster Abbey illuminatedOh wow, that was good. One of the highlights from Durham last November was “The Red House”, which saw Old Shire Hall, the former headquarters of Durham University, lit up into a glowing building. Well, designer Patrice Warrener doesn’t just do former university buildings – he does this for all sort of historic buildings. And for London he’s been allowed to illuminate no less than Westminster Abbey itself.

And what a good job he did of it. You can get a good idea of what is was like from any of these pictures, but it was well worth the trip to London to see this for myself. Like many Lumiere installations, there’ll be dozens of artists kicking themselves for not thinking of this before, but little touches like lighting up the individual saint and given them indivduals worked wonders – and I’m saying this as someone who thinks this whole sainthood thing is bollocks. A well-deserved highlight of the festival, the only snag is that we’ll never see this in Durham unless someone can build a replica Westminster Abbey. Never mind, we’ve got Durham Cathedral. You’ll have to come to us for the next Crown of Light or World Machine.

IFO (Identified Flying Object)

IFO viewed over waterThis is apparently a permanent installation outside Kings Cross station, and why not? One of the most popular themes at successive Lumieres have been rainbow colours, which has been mimicked by all sorts of artists, but the more the merrier. This is no exception, and if this is to remain between the two station for years to come, that’s a great idea.

Only complaint: do we have to over-analyse this? This is the verbatim description from the Lumiere website: “Designed to be a scenographic installation for an urban playing field but also a true light installation expressing an urban message …” What? I’ve long maintained we should have less incomprehensible descirptions like this and more unashamed descriptions of “bright lights that look pretty”, which is what people come to see. I’ll leave it up to you to find a better wording.


Tunnel at Kings Cross St Pancras Underground stationThis is maybe cheating for Artichoke to include this in the Lumiere programme, because it was most likely coming to London anyway, but hey, it impressed me anyway. The “installation” in question is in the tunnel to the newly-opened northern entrance to King Cross St. Pancras Underground station. And, as is often the case with modern rail infrastructure projects, the Powers that Be looked for something that’s pleasing to the eye as well as practical. Oh look, the tunnel’s opening just in time for Lumiere. In it goes to the programme then.

But I must confess it was a very nicely done piece of civil engineering masquerading as an art insallation. I remember thinking as I headed up the tunnel towards the tube exit how nice this tunnel looked, not realising it was part of the programme. It’s not an entirely new idea, and you certainly don’t have to wait for a light festival to do something like this – up north we’ve got the excellent “Platform 5” wall at Sunderland station – but it’s a good job well done, and good that it’s staying.

Circus of Light

Fireworks projected on to buildingLumiere Durham fans might have noticed one thing in common with the above three installations: we won’t see anything of them in Durham. They are permanent installations in London, tied to a specific location in London, or both. There were a lot of good installations touring to London the other way, but we’ve seen those already.

But fear not. At the 11th hour, I saw something that I’ve love to see in London, and that’s Circus of Light. This was a 15-minute animation of a circus show, which I can best describe as a hybrid of Yellow Submarine, Monty Python and Dr. Seuss. Come on, who doesn’t want a hybrid of Yellow Submarine, Monty Python and Dr. Seuss? This the headline piece in the Kings Cross area, a great headline it was.

Now, where shall we suggest for Durham? My vote is for the castle. Londoners, you can have the whale.

Light Graffitti

23819686393_2b331c1c06_zI clean forgot. There’s another installation one that’s easily portable to Durham. It’s also something that looks quite boring in all the official photos: simply a colourful pattern projected on the pavement. But wait! That’s only the beginning. Things only get interesting when you step into the light yourself. Then suddenly it becomes a suprisingly convincing luminous/khaki make-up effect, depending on the colours of the lights. Step out and it’s back to normal.

Yet another idea where I can see lots of other artists kicking themselves for not thinking of this before. Right, get this to Durham. I suggest putting this in Walkergate where the pubs are. It’ll feel even more amazing if you’re drinking.

The “hmm” list

Now for a short list of things I was’t so sure about. I’m not going to single out installations I didn’t like – after all, no-one should expect an entire festival to their personal tastes – but there were some things I felt could have been done better.

The return of clever installations that only clever people understand

Veterans of Lumiere Durham will know that the biggest change there is been over the year is the decline of the “clever” artwork that did not appear to have much appeal other than fans of the Baltic or Tate Modern – oh, but it’s done by a Turner Prize winner, so you’re just not thinking about it hard enough. In the first two festivals, there was quite a lot of this around. And, most strangely, in spite of these Turner Prize-winners et al meant to be the most original cutting edge artists out there, they almost always went for ANOTHER PROFOUND STATEMENT IN CAPITAL LETTERS. But, as I said, this has featured very little in later Lumieres, with science-themed installations rising in their place.

At London, the “clever” installations are back. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have these installations. Nobody is forced to look at an installation they don’t like, and if some people like this sort of thing, it’s only fair they should be included. But this brings me to my related gripe: do we know people want this? At Durham, they painstaking canvassed public opinion every festival to find out what people do and don’t like, but I saw no evidence of this in London. It would be a pity if such a successful festival ended up as a place to impose art by a group who considers their tastes superior to the masses.

Small installations, big crowds

The biggest complaint you will hear about Lumiere London is the crowds. I will consider this in detail shortly, but in the meantime, the obvious defence for Artichoke is that it was a new festival and they didn’t know how popular it was going to be. So it was difficult to predict crowds – with one exception. There was one thing they should have seen coming, and that was the popularity of some of the small installations.

The installations I have in mind are DressesNeon Dogs and Aquarium. They were all good installations, but they were all small installations which you needed to be close up to see. The result? Jostle-jostle-jostle-jostle-photo-photo-photo-jostle-jostle-selfie-selfie! (And probably some pickpocketing thrown in for good measure.) Some marshal tried quite belatedly to get people to move on, but it didn’t do much good. Really, Artichoke should have guessed it would be this bad, and had they set up an orderly queuing system in advance, it would have made a lot of difference.

In defence of Artichoke, it wasn’t entirely their fault. Part of the blame needs to be shared with the numerous douchebags who insisted on standing in the way taking endless photos ad infinitum. I’ve never really subscribed to the idea that you have to take photos of absolutely everything, and unless you are a quite accomplished photographer, there are going to be endless photos available for free online afterwards that will be better than the ones you took. But if you must take some photos, please show some courtesy for everyone else. When endless crowds are queuing up behind you and you’re hogging the spot where they can actually see the thing, you are engaging in major douchebaggery.

And now, the crowds …

To be fair, the crowding around the small exhibits was the least of the problems. The big problem was that crowding overall reached the point where it got dangerous. I missed the worst of this on Saturday, but apparently they had to switch off some installations in order to disperse some crowds, and Kings Cross station itself had to be evacuated when crowds got dangerous there. Not good. Great that so many people liked Lumiere, but not what they bargained for.

The only consolation is that this wasn’t as bad as the fiasco of Lumiere Durham 2011, which was insanely overcrowded. But a second London festival could go that way. After all, Lumiere Durham 2011 was Durham’s second festival, with the success of the first festival swelling numbers a second time round. If the same effect is repeated for London – and the overwhelmingly positive coverage suggests it would – God knows what the next Lumiere London will be like.

And unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this. Durham solved the problem by closing off the city centre and admitting people by tickets at the busiest times. I cannot imagine you could do that for London. So instead, they’re talking about spreading the installations over a much wider area. That could work, but spread out installations too much and you lose the festival feeling. There is clearly a lot of demand for Lumiere London to return, but it’ll be a huge challenge to make that work.

But we must not forget that the only reason we are having this debate is because of the huge popularity of the festival in the first place. Even if Lumiere London must be a one-off, Durham can be very proud of what it’s brought to London. And if the worst comes to the worst and it can’t repeated in London, you’ll be welcome in Durham next time round.

Also in London …

This isn’t really related to Lumiere at all, only that I happened to see this whilst I was in London for Lumiere, but I absolutely have to say how good Dinosaur Park was. For those of you who were raving about a play called Jurassic Park at the last Edinbrugh Fringe – yes, it’s the same play, just renamed. It’s also been extended from Edinburgh and is now twice the length. What hasn’t changed is how good this play is, if the praise from Edinburgh is anything to go by.

I’m only going to do a quick review of this because it’s already has all the glowing reviews it could possibly need. On the surface, Jurassic/Dinosaur Park is a re-enactment of a film on stage with a small cast and small-scale staging. This has been done many times before with many different films – but this one is different. Because running parallel to the famous tale of our favourite Health and Safety-disregarding theme park is the tale of the family telling the story.

Here’s the premise: it’s one-year memorial for a mother who died in a road accident, with a screening of the film they used to all watch together as a family. Before it even begins, there’s a difficult relationship emerging between the socially awkward father and the tearaway not-actually-his-daughter daughter. When the video turns out to be missing from the box, it’s up to the enthusiastic Spielberg superfan son to sing the opening theme and start the story himself.

Dennis Nedry gets his comeuppanceOver the next two hours, the play flashes back and forth from the dinosaur story to the family’s story. In the film, all your favourite lines are there, such as Dennis Nedry’s famous “Serves me right for being such a greedy hypocrite” as he’s being dismembered (at least, I think that was in the film). The family story follows parralels with the film, such as the daughter trying to make sense of Ian Malcolm’s chaos theory to the chance events that caused her mother’s death.

I never saw the shorter Edinburgh version so I can’t make a conclusive comparison, but the longer format seems to suit this play better. It’s fair to say to probably need to have seen the film at least once to follow this play, but I only saw the film once, twenty-three years ago, and I got it. I don’t think any review can do this play justice, because if you haven’t seen this play it’s hard to imagine this could be anything more than a novelty. But trust me, it is. Lumiere London won’t be touring any time soon, but this is. Catch it if you can.

Lumiere London pictures are all taken from Flickr from Creative Commons licensed photos. Please follow links on photos for credits of the various photographers. As always, many thanks to those of you who make your photos available for free.

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