London gets lit

London’s dark winter nights shine brighter thanks to Lumiere – the four-day light festival that transforms one of Europe’s busiest cities into pedestrian-only zones to host a spectacular outdoor light art gallery.

Numerous cities across the globe and many different cultures organise winter lighting festivals to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of the light seasons, with innovative light installations and grand-scale projections. From Lyon to Alingsås, Amsterdam to Sydney, Copenhagen to Singapore and Berlin to Barcelona, a worldwide “lighting movement” is led by international lighting artists, designers and manufacturers, with the objective to illuminate, interpret and transform urban spaces through their creative vision.

Originally, this kind of celebration had a religious and spiritual meaning, to celebrate the end of the year’s dark period and the beginning of lighter days. Nowadays, the spiritual meaning has given way to amusement and stupefaction, and there’s the consumerist aspect too, going by the amount of visitors these large-scale festivals draw.

This year London’s most famous landmarks were illuminated from the 18-21 January 2018, along with more than 50 massive sculptures, video-mappings and installations created by influential artists and designers, from all over the world, who use light as a medium.

London Lumiere expanded light across central London from Kings Cross to Fitzrovia, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Westminster, and this year the pedestrian zone along the river, South Bank, was involved with interactive installations. The light effects came alive from dusk until the evening at 10.30pm, appealing to experts in the field, art lovers, families, young and old. There was something for everyone.

As a lighting designer and through my eyes, I’d like you to catch a glimpse of the most striking light art. I’ve selected some of the most interesting installations, be it for a particular light technology or simply because of persuasive concepts.

Waterlicht Studio Roosegaarde

The immersive installation inspired by global warming and rising sea levels by the innovative Studio Roosegaarde, conquered the visitors of Granary Square, converting this big suggestive space into ethereal scenery. Thanks to the play of blue lasers, wisely controlled to draw waves of light into an ephemeral foggy landscape, Studio Roosegaarde created a powerful experience to contemplate the future climate change and associated impacts.

Waterlicht Studio Roosegaarde London Lumiere Light Art

Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) Patrice Warrener

The gothic facade of Westminster Abbey was brought to life by the French digital artist Patrice Warrener, recognised across the globe for his chromolithe projection system able to incorporate polychromatic illuminations into sculptural details, such as the glorious statuettes of 20th-century martyrs reimagined. The result of this spectacular colourful and vivid projection was a bright painted surface that left you literally open-mouthed.

Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) Patrice Warrener Westminster Abbey Light Art

Aether Architecture Social Club with Max Cooper

Architecture Social Club, a British collective of designers, architects and technicians created ethereal psychedelic shapes by projecting lights into a bespoke fluctuant metal mash. This impressive play of light together with the experimental sounds by music producer Max Cooper generated interactive sensory experiences.

Aether Architecture Social Club with Max Cooper Light Art

Spectral Katarzyna Malejka and Joachim Slugocki

The young artistic Polish duo Katarzyna Malejka and Joachim Slugocki explored the natural environment of St James’s Square, with coloured stretched strips illuminated by night with UV lights to create a striking and poetic spectacle.

Spectral Katarzyna Malejka and Joachim Slugocki Light Art

The Wave Vertigo

This interactive sculpture became, without a doubt, the protagonist of the South Bank lighting installations. The Wave consists of 40 triangular, interactive, both glowing and sounding gates, four metres tall, which respond to movement sonically and visually. The experience allowed visitors to co-create constantly, changing the perception of the installation.

The Wave Vertigo Light Art

Northern Lights Aleksandra Stratimirovic

The Swedish artist, Aleksandra Stratimirovic, brought from the Northern Hemisphere’s sky the sensational and unique natural light phenomenon, Aurora Borealis, to the familiar landscape of Grosvenor Square. The lighting installation consists of 100 vertical LED light lines, suspended above the square, magnificently controlled to create dynamic and fluid movements that enact the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights Aleksandra Stratimirovic Light Art

Control No Control Daniel Iregui

One of the interactive installations that impressed the most was Control No Control – the LED cube made by the Colombian artist Daniel Iregui. The installation is programmed with five different states of sound and visual form that interact with your body, manipulating the graphics of the LED sculpture.

Control No Control Daniel Iregui Light Art

Droplets Ulf Pedersen

This site-specific installation consists of 12 animated water droplets, each toned to a different note. The internal garden of Fitzroy Place was the location chosen by UK-based artist Ulf Pedersen for his suggestive light art. The sound of the water drops corresponds to the concentric elements placed on the ground, which become brighter in a random order.

Droplets Ulf Pedersen Light Art

Child Hood Collectif Coin

The French Collectif Coin, co-produced by La Casemate, installed a large number of luminous balloons wafting in space, making the impressive Trafalgar Square even more suggestive. Hundreds of fluctuating balloons were gently moved by the wind, glowing alternately following a pressing electronic sound.

Child Hood Collectif Coin Light Art

I hope I have “lit” your curiosity about light art and, like me, you’re looking forward to experiencing London Lumiere 2019!

(The free festival was commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and produced by arts charity Artichoke.)

Images: Martina Alagna