Luminere London 2018 – 5 Installations That Caught Our Imagination
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
January is a dark month compared to the light festooned spectacle of Christmas. Fortunately for those in the London area, the Luminere London 2018 festival came to town for four nights to enliven our dampened spirits with arty and immersive light-based experiences.
Created by leading UK and international artists, these inspired, technically complex installations were sprinkled in carefully chosen locations throughout the city. The event offered us the delightful opportunity to have our senses tickled whilst exploring areas we wouldn't usually go to or didn't know existed.
As Oli and I stepped out into the frosty air, it was nature that provided the evening's first dazzling illuminations. A laser-cut crescent moon hung in the clear sky, surrounded by only the boldest twinkling stars. The sense of anticipation from people around us was palpable. Our expectation there would large crowds to contend with proved wrong; seeing the artworks was an orderly and intimate experience with an infectious excitement more akin to doing a treasure hunt.
With such a diverse range of artworks to enjoy, it has been extremely difficult to narrow it down to just five to talk about. However, after much deliberation these are the five we believe created the most diverse sensory amusement.
Daan Roosegaarde: Waterlicht, Granary Square, Kings Cross.
The immense expanse of Granary Square, a newly created public square normally filled with over 1000 choreographed fountains, was transformed into a vast ethereal landscape. Dry ice machines hissed out enormous clouds of smoke that swathed the crowd and billowed up into the sky. Laser lights placed on the periphery etched wave patterns into the swirling haze only a few meters above our heads. A eerie blue hue illuminated onlookers and the darkness of the square. Together with the watery sound-track, the hypnotic sensation of being underwater was exactly what Daan Roosegaarde was trying to invoke. So appropriate for an area with such close associations with water.
Daan Roosegaarde, a Dutch artist and innovator intended Waterlicht to 'envelop viewers in a virtual flood.' Inspired by his Dutch heritage – their low-lying landscape and natural affinity with the sea - this artwork was designed to explore 'our changing relationship to water, and the risk we all face if immediate action is not taken to tackle global warming and rising sea levels.' Such was his immersive experience that people stood transfixed for several minutes with barely a murmur, their figures silhouetted in the mist with just a glow of phone screens silently capturing the moment. Time temporarily slowed. Leaving the exhibit gave me that same disorientated sensation I get walking out from a dark cinema into a bright and busy summer's afternoon.
Michael Davis: Illumaphonium, Mount Street, Mayfair.
As we meandered our way from Grosvenor Square towards Berkeley Square Gardens in Mayfair, the sound of glassy glockenspiel notes drifted like bubbles towards us. I peered eagerly into distance and could see a large graceful water feature ironically named 'Silence', but not the source of the music. A melodic bass line now added more depth as we approached, audibly guiding us to its location. Tucked away in a small neatly landscaped square off Mount Street, we found Illumaphonium.
This 3.5metre high interactive musical sculpture created by Michael Davis was truly multi-sensory. Composed of over a hundred illuminated chime bars set into bulbous lights, it responded to the touch of eager crowd members. The random notes rung together creating a perfectly tuneful piece of uplifting music, and dispersed into the air along with the mellow turquoise glow.
Crowd reaction varied; some were mesmerised by the changing patterns of lights and stood back in quiet appreciation, enjoying the musical accompaniment. Others vigorously moved between chimes as if trying to hurriedly compose their own masterpiece. Davis' intention to bring people together into a fun and spontaneous music-making experience proved very successful. Oli took a few photos for couples who wanted to record the moment together until we eventually strolled off; our minds replaying the haunting strains of musical chimes long after they slipped out of earshot. Ulf Pedersen: Droplets, Fitzroy Place, Fitzrovia.
We followed a sparse trickle of other Luminere-hunters as we wended our way into an upscale, newly constructed flat complex in Fitzrovia. At the heart of the immaculate quadrangle incongruously stood the listed red-brick chapel of the former Middlesex Hospital. The lawn surrounding it contained cluster of small trees bathed in blue light, and twelve animated 'water droplets'. Each droplet was composed of circles of turquoise neon tubes which lit up sequentially to random drip sounds.
The effect was captivating; each tonally different drop punctuated the silence and then built up to a crescendo of several lighting up at once. In an area full of bars, restaurants and occupied flats, this area felt transformed into a magical oasis. It was impossible not to imagine being in a mist-laden cloud forest listening to the water tunefully drip off the trees.
I looked around to take it all in. The artist, Ulf Pedersen, had ingeniously combined the these natural and artificial elements and placed it in a mixed architectural space. The hard glass and steel fronted flats reflecting the echoes of the sounds, juxtaposed with the curves of the old chapel. For nearly a century it was a place of quiet contemplation for staff, patients and visitors to the old hospital – and momentarily this captivating installation returned it back to that time.
Mick Stephenson with Electric Pedals: The Rose, Westminster Cathedral, Victoria.
From a distance, the plaza in front of Westminster Cathedral hosted what appeared to be a slowly pulsating traditional stained glass window. Closer inspection revealed it to be a beautiful rainbow-coloured 3D rose with each coloured layer composed of plastic bottles banded together and set into a deep black fascia. A row of static bicycles transformed people-power into back-lighting. The crowd, some of whom were perched on the bikes peddling furiously, let out trills of delight each time it lit up right to the edges. Once they had dismounted the window dimmed with the loss of input. Within moments a new wave of enthusiastic onlookers stepped up to take their place.
Mick Stephenson's message was clearly an environmental one - from the use of thousands of old coloured plastic bottles put together during workshops with local school children, to the idea of participants providing the energy to light it. The UK artist sought to remind us how light is luxury and highlight the issues of poverty, sustainability and climate change.
Ultimately it also achieved something else equally profound. It encouraged complete strangers to work towards a common goal: combining their energy to see the window lit up in its full glory. As we left, there was a clear and pervasive sense of shared achievement.
Patrice Warrener: The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2), Great West Gate, Westminster Abbey.
Few would have thought it possible to make an already spectacular historical and architectural treasure such as Westminster Abbey even more awe-inspiring. This was our last exhibit for the evening and we both felt weary from walking. Distracted by the colourful London Eye on the opposite bank of the Thames, we arrived at the end of Victoria Street to be greeted by this thrilling and colourful spectacle rising high before us. There were audible gasps from the small throng of people around us followed by a babble of excitement and a quickening of pace to get closer. As one of the most famous landmarks in London, this was undeniably the jewel in the Luminere London 2018 crown, in both sheer scale, intricacy and crowd reaction.
It's sometimes difficult to appreciate the splendour of the individual details on such a complex building when there are so many. It's easy to let the myriad of gargoyles, statues and intricate stained glass overwhelm us to the point where the plethora of decoration turns into a visual white noise. Particularly when the entire building is the same shade of stone.
The projected colour and light on Great West façade of Westminter Abbey, instantly directed our focus to the elaborate nature of the architecture and the statues in particular. As the Luminere London Guide accurately explained: 'the 20th century martyrs are transformed into kaleidoscopic illuminations, a tribute to their lives in technicolour.'
Patrice Warrener is a French light artist famous for his Chromolithe Polychromatic Illumination System. Warrener has painstakingly light-painted the façades of over 60 ornate historical buildings - allowing some of the more unobtrusive decorations have their moment in the lime light. It was clearly a fitting tribute to a building which has provided the backdrop to numerous landmark events in English history. It was also a fitting end to a night of sensorial stimulation where the bright colours set against the dark cloudless backdrop, set off mini fireworks of pleasure in our minds.
Did you go to Lumiere London this year? If so which art-works did you find most sensorially stimulating? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.