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Lumiere 2023: The highlights from the light festival that returned to Durham last weekend

A glowing review of Lumiere’s return to Durham?


Lumiere (the UK’s light art biennial) returned to Durham last weekend, illuminating the city with both spectacular, vibrant displays and quietening, reflective pieces hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city. Packed to the brim with 160,000 visitors over the course of the weekend, Lumiere captured the attention of a mass audience waiting to see Durham transformed once again with a myriad of different installations created by artists from all over the world. 

This year’s festival had the biggest programme to date, with just over 40 installations. The event required operation on a large scale, which saw the application of a one-way system where only ticket-holders could access the city centre. Dispersed along the route were vendors and volunteers helping the city-wide show run smoothly – but how good was the show?

Well, there were mixed reviews. It had my friend’s Uber drivers exclaim ‘it wasn’t as good as last time!’, and many people say they were slightly underwhelmed – it not being entirely what they’d imagined.

Town was pretty much inaccessible past 4pm, and had us wondering whether we’ll actually be able to get take-out or make those urgent, last-minute dashes to Tesco. 

But, overall, Lumiere was a great way to spend an evening away from the stresses of student life, wandering around the city with your friends – freezing cold but spirits high.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the most spectacular pieces of the weekend…

Pulse Topology and Liquid Geometry

‘Liquid Geometry’ transformed Palace Green, Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a moving and ‘mind-bending’ geometric space – visitors surrounded by lights and shadows. Moving into the cathedral, this ebb and flow continued into the installation ‘Pulse Topology’ which saw the Cathedral become Lumiere’s ‘pulsating heart’ – literally. The lightbulbs were activated at a central point by the pulse of visitors.

Also have the Illuminated Bottle Rack (Ai Weiwei), and Inner Cloister (Adam Frelin) below

This saw spotlights reach into the sky which could be faintly seen all across Durham! It was a powerful display, accompanied by a soundscape incorporating the voices of those in local choirs, and walking across the bridge certainly felt apocalyptic. No photo can really do it justice but the attempt is below!

On Blank Pages

By the Gala Theatre, this expansive installation of notebooks of blank pages was full of handwritten notes – meant to be about the justice system. Instead, on most pages enveloping the piece were scribbles, dodgy quotes and jokes. Beautiful sentiments such as “work like a captain, party like a pirate” covered many of the pages. Not only was this installation a sight to behold, but it also provided great entertainment and gave us all something to learn from!

Below (from left to right) there is also: Holi, Unreel Access and Ghost Nest

Universal Loom

This saw one of Durham uni’s own lit up in colour. Undoubtedly a beautiful piece but maybe a bit too close for comfort; walking past the Billy B isn’t really what you want on a night of escapism.

Watchtower

Situated in Durham’s sixth form centre, the installation incorporated primary school children’s self-drawn portraits.

Parallels 

Located in the Prince Bishops’ loading bay, and created by the collective group of artists called Architecture Social Club, this installation aimed to “envelop spectators in animated volumes of light […] alternating between moments of serenity to eruptions of chaos“.

This industrial setting created great contrast from the rest of the installations nestled in Durham’s iconic landmarks; upon entering the installation, the powerful bursts of colour and hypnotic music meant visitors were welcomed into an entirely new experience.

Deffo one for those missing the Jimmys.

Below (from left to right) there was also Hurts So Good in Market Square, Planetoïds and Rumination

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