Let there be light

In defiance of the dark days of January, Lumiere London is back to lift the spirits. We catch up with the Artistic Director to find out how she translated the festival to the capital.

It’s regarded, unofficially, as the quietest, bleakest weekend of the year. “It’s the weekend when you have been to the sales, decided to go on a diet, given up alcohol and haven’t been paid,” says Helen Marriage, director of arts charity Artichoke. “But what we saw in 2016 is that you can turn all that on its head and make people happy.”

Enter stage right London’s largest arts festival; Lumiere. Returning to the capital for a second time, Artichoke is responsible for more than 40 UK and international artists who will illuminate the city’s public spaces across four nights this month.

Its first outing in 2016 dazzled and enchanted more than 1.3 million people and this year’s follow-up, with a footprint that stretches across both sides of the Thames and includes several new destinations, looks set to stave off the January blues once more.

A sprawling spectacle, it will take in iconic locations such as Westminster Abbey and the National Theatre and include installations across much of the West End and Mayfair including Berkeley Square, Brown Hart Gardens and South Audley Street.

“We are excited to welcome Lumiere London back to the West End for the second time,” says Luciana Magliocco, head of consumer marketing for Oxford Street. “Many of our stores, restaurants and hotels will be celebrating with special offers and experiences, making January the perfect reason to visit the West End.”

The origins of Lumiere can be traced back to Durham. Helen was stepping off a train there – her mum lives in the city – when she had something of a lightbulb moment.

“I walked down the path and looked out over the city and I just knew how I was going to do it,” she recalls. “I thought it would work really well there because it’s a beautiful city. The landscape bleeds into the city centre, sort of embraced by the river and the historic architecture.”

In 2009, Lumiere’s inaugural festival saw 75,000 people take to the streets. It has returned, every two years, since.

“It was just remarkable,” says Helen. “We were not known then. Artichoke was very young and it was maybe the fourth thing we had done. I remember standing with my partner and saying ‘do you think anyone is going to come?’.”

Staging it in London, Helen says, has been an exciting but immensely complicated proposition. “The buildings are so massive and there are so many people here and there are iconic places,” she says. “The logistics of manipulating a world city are very complicated.”

A free event, Helen says that Lumiere’s sense of inclusiveness is important as it aligns with their values as an organisation. Making art accessible and bring communities together is key.

“Artichoke exists partly to explore ideas of public space and public realm ownership, but also to create unforgettable moments in the life of a city that allows you to see a very familiar landscape completely differently,” she says.

Helen is also very aware of the emotional response which Lumiere triggers. “The essence of our work is live and transformational,’ she says. “It’s about the lived experience and how that changes how you feel about the place you know.

“We have marriage proposals at every event we do and people who haven’t spoken to their dads for 20 years suddenly have their dad saying ‘I love you’.”

Lumiere London runs from January 18 to 21. For more information, visit lumiere-festival.com

Images by Mark Loudon.