I’ve been meaning to write this for several months, but now I’d better get a move on. Next month the programme for Lumiere is revealed, and as this is a 10th anniversary Lumiere, they are going to give this a special theme I’m unofficially naming “Lumiere’s greatest hits”. There will be a few new installations coming, but most of them will be some of the most popular installations over the last five biannual festivals. In which case, here’s a good opportunity to give my own wish list for my dream Lumiere line-up.
Here’s the rules of this game. These installations are all personal favourites of mine, but I have taken into account popularity amongst other people too. I have, however, set myself a rule that it must be possible to put these all into one festival. I loved most of the centrepiece installations in the Market Place, for example, but the Market Place can only have one centrepiece at a time. Very occasionally, I will take the liberty of advocating moving an installation, but that is strictly reserved for cases where there’s two installations in the same place and I can’t bear to let either go.
Footnote: I’ve found out through my channels that one of these on the list is coming, but I won’t say which one because I respect embargoes. But it was already on my wish list before I knew it was coming.
Are you ready? Then here we go:
The best of Durham that I want back
Crown of Light (2009-2013)
Some people said that this installation was overused after coming back for a third appearance – but it would surely be unthinkable to leave out this iconic projection over the first three festivals. The images of the Lindisfarne Gospels projected over Durham Cathedral was the definitive image of Lumiere, and without this I doubt the festival would have catapulted the festival to national fame. As well as the images, the music used for the project – existing music though it may have been – was perfect for the setting. Nothing says Lumiere more than Crown of Light – surely surely surely this has to be in the 10th anniversary lineup.
The World Machine (2015)
The only problem with Crown of Light is that I really liked The Universe Machine too. As Lumiere began associating more with Durham University in 2015 and exploring the science studied down the road, the images of the solar system and the planet from fire to freezing held up well against the very hard act it had to follow. But the clincher to get this on the list was the wonderful music written for this projection. The snag – Crown of Light is already on the list, both of which can only be shown on the Cathedral. In 2017 there was a very similarly-theme Cosmic Architecture on the physics building, even using the same music, so I nearly chose those for my dream line-up, but in the end I’ve decided to go with both Cathedral installations. They will just have to take turns – I’m happy to stay for both.
Miners’ vests (2011)
After the outside projections on Palace Green, the next most prestigious slot to land is the inside of the Cathedral. There’s three strong contenders here, but in the end I’m going for the Miners’ Vests, mainly because I’d heard about in advance but I had no idea how spectacular it would be until I actually saw it. (Technically this was part of a wider installation other covering other parts of the Cathedral, but it was the bit inside the Cathedral itself that was so memorable.) A homage to the heritage of the region, the idea of a light inside a Miner’s Vest seemed simple enough, but when they were hung throughout the Cathedral – almost like stars in the sky – the view was truly spectacular.
I Love Durham (2011)
The other centrepiece location of any Lumiere festival is the Market Place. Again, we’re spoilt for choice here, but in the end my choice has to be the snow dome, because whilst the other installations would have been great anywhere, I Love Durham would not be the same anywhere other than where the statue of Lord Londonderry is. It was also a brilliantly simple idea that worked so well. A simple spherical covering and a helping a polystyrene snow made Durham’s most famous status into a giant snow storm. One snag with this is that the polystyrene kept escaping out of the dome last time round and ended up everywhere,so if you can find a way to stop that happened this time, please do so. But after Crown of Light, if you want to something that really stamps the mark of Durham,, this has to be it.
The whale in the River Wear was only here for one festival, but after Crown of Light this image of a whale in the River Wear was the next most iconic image of the festival. It is also of of the most ingenious images of the festival. It was described by many people as a “3D whale”, but it’s not; it’s just that the company behind this, Top La Design, is very good at creating 2D images at just the right distance and just the right background to trick your brain into think it’s seeing a 3D image. As projecting a life-size whale on to a wall of water spray was brilliantly inspired, brilliantly executed. My only regret is this was never part of Lumiere London – it would have been spectular to have seen this in the Thames. But I guess what’s why you Londonders need to come to proper Lumiere, okay?
Fool’s Paradise (2015)
And now, something I feel is very under-rated: the projection on Durham Castle they did four years ago. As a technical accomplishment, it was quite impressive, because in order to put images on the Castle in view of Framwellgate Bridge you have to project from a quarter of a mile anyway, whilst I didn’t even know you could do. But the greatest achivement of Novak is that they are just about the best at making use of every nook and cranny of the buildings they use, whether in Durham, London, or Derry-Londonderry. In Durham, a fairy-tale / pied piper theme is used, with the castle walls tranforming from castle to ocean to village back to castle again, and giant worms smashing through the castle walls. Novak have been active in the north-east with other projects too (they did the projection for The Savage at Live Theatre a few years back) but this one is their absolute best. Here’s hoping for a return.
Another one now picks for its ingenuity – not that complex an idea, but a brilliant idea to have and one that everyone else must have kicked themselves for not thinking of first. The festival after the miners’ vests, the Cathedral was adorned with curly wire and slit-shaped lights were projected through it. Sounds boring? It actually created a stunning effect of beams of light jumping across the ceiling, simply by the light reflecting off the wires. Of course, under the rules I have set myself we can’t have this in the Cathedral at the Miners’ Vests are already there (and, unlike projections, you can’t take it in turns), but this looks good just about anywhere. At the last Lumiere London it was done outside just as well – how about around St. Oswald’s Church?
Liter of Light (2013 version)
No Lumiere Durham would be complete without the star pupil of the Brilliant Scheme, Mick Stephenson. Every year, four slots go to local artists who pitch with ideas, but Mick Stephenson has proved the smash hit, with his latest installation, a coloured recreation of the Rose Window of Durham Cathedral made entirely from bottles, being one of the star attractions at Lumiere London. (N.B. Some of his installations are spelt litRE of light and others are litER of light. I am also confused.) But for my best of programme, I’m going to pick his 2013 installation as something different. Most installations to Lumiere are basically bright lights that look pretty, as they should be, but Liter of Light in 2013 sought to raise awareness of places in the world where windows are a luxury, without which even in daytime a home can have no light. This demonstrated how effectively a device as simple as a plastic bottle filled with water can light a home. My guess is that it will be the rose window that goes in the 2019 programme, but in terms of what sticks in my memory, this unique piece does it far better than most.
The Red House (2015)
In 2015, when Durham University had moved out of Old Shire Hall and its future was uncertain, Patrice Warrener gave it a welcome revival four four nights by lighting up the building. Whether we can do this again now that Old Shire Hall is now a working hotel is unclear. However, Patrice Warrener’s greatest work at Lumiere has to be lighting up Westminster Abbey at Lumiere London – and that is about as iconic to Lumiere London as Crown of Light is to Lumiere Durham. So if Old Shire Hall isn’t an option, there’s plenty of other beautiful buildings in Durham to choose from – I’m sure he can work his magic there.
What Matters (2017)
To wind up my list of Durham favourites, three installations out of the city centre, seemingly intended as side shows for the main event. But the display in St. Oswald’s Church last time was a huge unexpected hit; I heard so many people single this one out for praise. It was a simple enough idea – suspending glass orbs from the ceiling and shining lights through them, and it created a beautiful effect, both of the display up in the ceiling and the lighting effect this created in the space. I’m not expecting all of my Lumiere requests to come to fruition, but after how popular this one was, surely surely surely this is returning.
Home Sweet Home (2015)
Shared Space and Light got a headline slot at the last Lumiere with The Common Good, a projection on The Miners’ Hall with the stories of public sector workers. But for my request list, I’m going to pick the hidden gem they did the festival before: Home Sweet Home. This installation was out of the way a bit, and projected on to the walls of someone’s house – yes, that image you see is a projection even though it looks like an actual house. Both of these installations were based around verbatim accounts, and both installations were very innovative with the ways they used the buildings to change with the stories, but I’ve picked the first one because I like the intimate setting here. All sorts of ordinary lives were covered in these stories, from the joys and challenges of moving into a new home to the people who don’t have one. My guess is that if Shared Space and Light are picked to come back, it will be their better-known Miners’ Hall installation, but I do hope the one that got them noticed is not forgotten.
LED’s Dance (2011)
Finally, this one from long ago which is probably forgotten by most people. I’ve picked this one for two reasons. Firstly, come on! It’s a DISCO FLOOR! With 8-BIT MUSIC! Featuring SPACE INVADERS! Need I say any more? Second reason, however, is where this was situated. 2011 was the year they put lots of installations in Wharton Park, and also the year when crowd management went out of control, and whilst I think Lumiere has found a good balance since then keeping crowds manageable without losing a festival feel, I do feel they missed a trick not using Wharton Park again. The park has been extensively refurbished since its 2011 debut, and could easily work as a second hub to counter-balance the crowded Penninsula. So this is a request for the 8-bit dance floor, obviously – but also a call again to make use of a place I think would be a great asset to the festival.
And one request from Lumiere London …
Although I’ve been to Lumiere London as well as Durham, most of my requests have been from the Durham programme – in general, my favourite London installations were either ones that had already been my favourites in Durham, or worked for the a specific location in London (with no obvious equivalent available in Durham). However, there is one thing I saw in London last year that absolutely must come to Durham.
The Wave (2018)
I confess, when I read about this one, my first reaction was “meh”. Most photos they had of this were some lit triangles all in a row. What these photos didn’t tell you, however, was that they weren’t just a load a static lights but a full light show. And in order to see it, you have to standing within the lights to give the effect of a triangular tunnel, and oh my God, it’s amazing inside, watching the light patterns whizz over your head. Artichoke, you absolutely have to bring this to Durham. I know we’re a bit short of open spaces in Durham, but I reckon you could squeeze this in to the Millennium Place – might have to be a slightly shortened version, but it would be worth it. Please please please please please.
Anyway, we will find out the real list on the 17th October/ Look forward to seeing what it is.