“See the city in a new light.”
Such is the bold invitation issued by, a one-weekend festival of lights with a version that premiered in Durham, UK, last November to great aplomb.
We’re used to lights in London, of course. There’s the refracted glare of early-morning smog; the double-flash of speed cameras; those ubiquitous LED “Open” signs that must be making someone, somewhere, a small fortune.
Lumiere London promises us something different. About 30 artistic installations will spring up around the city, only to disappear by the end of the weekend: a fleeting visitation of secret waves from the beyond.
Never mind last year’s underwhelming International Year of Light, for there’s a renewed and genuine interest in light as a medium in the art world. Theat London’s Hayward Gallery in 2013 was almost constantly sold out. In 2015, companies and university departments tripped over themselves to exploit , ahead of the UK commercial release of the Oculus Rift headset . Laser-scanned 3D point clouds have been gathering in galleries and festivals all over Europe. And a by ScanLab Projects at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, showing cybernetically glimpsed animal decomposition, tipped past the usual digital uncanny into a gothic-horror space all its own.
A different sort of horror held sway in Paris, where big public visualisations of the desperate state of the world’s climate. The large public gatherings that ought to have been watching and wailing were, however, banned by the city’s beleaguered police following terror attacks just days before.
Some of the works at Lumiere London promise to be great spectacles. Ocubo’s, in front of the new Central Saint Martins art school at King’s Cross, promises a “magical animated world of music and mayhem”, combining 3D projection mapping with live performances.
Other works promise more considered insight into the use of light as a medium. Drag yourself away from Circus of Light, look over the canal, and you will be able to seeby Belgian group Lab[au] – an attempt to visualise the “invisible layer within a city of the electromagnetic field”. The artists are keen to point out that this work is more than just another data visualisation: posed at the edge of the water, their lights will respond in real time to invisible flows of information that surround them from mobile phones, radios and cars. Artists often query or express concern over these invisible structures in our urban environment: Lab[au] wants to welcome them into the visible architecture of the city.
Around the side of the Central Saint Martins building, you will find, the latest in a series of “physical-digital” sculptures by London-based artists Field.io. At first glance, their sculpture resembles a radio telescope. Field.io co-founder Vera-Maria Glahn told me this is intentional: Spectra-3 is “a communication device that communicates with something out there that we don’t really have a symbol for”, she says. Glahn talks of the sculpture conducting a “choreography of matter”. The impression is of some benign alien technology that wrestles for control of light for an obscure but clearly playful purpose.
Caption (Image: Credit)
Spectacles and interesting conceptual turns will dominate, but politics is not neglected.is, after all, one of the most pressing issues in large parts of the developing world. And, being tied to the energy grid and the manufacturing supply chain, electrical light has its environmental costs.
In Trafalgar Square, anonymous artistic group Luzinterruptus will install, a model that alludes to the – an enormous, diffuse “island” of refuse in the middle of the ocean, drawn together by global tides. Here we see the material cost of a culture in which constant electric lighting is the norm.
Perhaps as a counterpoint, and using the plastic bottles – as in the Luzinterruptus work – for a practical purpose, Mick Stephenson’s projectat Central Saint Martins is a simple proposal for recycling plastic bottles as light bulbs.
These last two works strike a mordant note, pointing to a future in which such large-scale weekend light extravaganzas may not be so easy to stage or cheap to maintain. Nor may we be able to take such innocent delight in our more-than-visible world.
Lumiere London takes place in several locations across London from 14 to 17 January.
Image information (top to bottom): Circus of Light (credit: Ocubo.com); binaryWaves (credit: Lab(au)); Spectra-3 (credit: Field.io); Litre of Light (credit: MyShelter Foundation and Mick Stephenson)
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