1.8 London by Janet Echelman
hovers over Oxford Circus
Light and lighting, unlike any other medium, present special opportunities to work with public space, integrate installations with surroundings and allow for interaction by participants. In my practice as a designer, I am a firm believer
of the benefits of festivals of light and have proposed
their inclusion in lighting strategies and masterplans,
not only to promote tourism and regeneration but
also as a cultural event for the community. I also have
an interest in them as the director of a small lighting
festival, LewesLight, in my home town of Lewes in East
Sussex. So last January I was keen to see what Lumiere
London – a new event and the largest of its kind to be
held in the capital – would be like, how it sat within
the context of a big city and what type of installations
would be included. I was also interested to see what I
could learn from the concurrent Winter Lights festival
at London’s Canary Wharf.
Artichoke, the non-profit company behind Lumiere,
has a track record of delivering large-scale public
events including the successful and popular Lumiere
festival in Durham, as well as La Machine in Liverpool
in 2008, where commuters encountered a giant
mechanical spider, and the Sultan’s Elephant, vaunted
as ‘the biggest piece of free theatre ever seen in London’,
a couple of years earlier – both quite extraordinary. As
a trust working predominantly with artists aiming to
present work outside of conventional venues such as
theatres and galleries, it has a particular approach and
has developed a formula combining spectacle with
thoughtful introspection and an ethos of providing
free events designed to attract thousands.
There is no doubt that Lumiere London was a huge
success. It is estimated that more than a million people
attended over the four nights of the event. At one
point on the Saturday evening , the organisers had to
use social media to advise that some installations had
been turned off to reduce the volume of visitors, due to
potential safety concerns.
Lumiere delivered on many levels. The quality of the
works was mostly very good and some pieces were
excellent. It was produced to a high standard and
managed well, in a low key way. The atmosphere was
relaxed and comfortable for adults and children alike.
And businesses in the areas involved clearly benefited.
On a purely anecdotal level, I found busy cafés,
bars and restaurants whose exhausted staff claimed
unprecedented numbers of customers. The Heart of
London Business Alliance says footfall was 18 per cent
higher than on the same weekend a year earlier.
Where the event had most impact, in terms of scale
and spectacle, was in Piccadilly and Regent Street.
‘I do think events like these miss an
opportunity to explore the way we
interact with the space, and tend to
use it as a backdrop’