Whether or not is was due to a close look at 2016’s inaugural organisational and logistical issues (attempting to control the flow of two million spectators along the major roadways of central London), the 2018 edition of the London Lumiere festival was a much less fraught and frustrating experience (although I suspect the inclement weather was the greatest contributing factor for the much more muted response). It also helped enormously that there were fewer small-scale installations (no pieces situated in window units or along narrow passageways, impossible to be viewed properly) and a firm resolution to expand the parameters of the event into the surrounding neighbourhoods of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, easing the strain on the Piccadilly and Mayfair corridor, as well as staging a more extensive programme in King’s Cross than previously, and even leaping across the river to the Southbank (a trippy triangular walkway reacted sonically and visually to the public’s passage through it).The two most outstanding works were both located in this latter area: Daan Roosegaarde’s Waterlicht, which immersed crowds gathered in Granery Square in an overhead virtual flood of dry ice and coloured light, meant to evoke thoughts of climate change and ensuing chaos, but which I suspect was mostly enjoyed as pure sensation (the wind wreaked exquisite dramatic havoc with the waves) ; and Architecture Social Club’s (with Max Cooper) Aether, a true product of the collaboration between science and art, a raised box figure of metal coils onto which were projected a computational scheme of geometrical laser light patterns, in sequence with a bespoke and hypnotic orchestrated soundtrack, struck at a most primal level of emotion. Remi Bebawi’s Entre les Rangs invited an audience to stroll through a field of shimmering, reflective flower constructions in constant colour change, and Tilt’s Lampounette, a series of oversize office desk lamps, playfully commented on the emerging tech identity of King’s Cross. In central London, elegant, detailed light projections animated the facades of Regent Street buildings (a pair of Matisse lovers in a choreographed sway of heady romance decorated the courtyard of the Royal Academy), a pulsing orb of psychedelia adorned the Oxford Circus crossway, flamingoes promenaded through the streets of Chinatown, Leicester Square morphed into an hallucinatory garden of wild flora and fauna, St James’s Square wound its trees in an awe-inspiring spectrum of luminescent string, resonant raindrops crashed with visual fury onto the ground beneath a grove of saplings in Fitzrovia, light flicked along a spiral of wire in a Mayfair park, like an evanescent rage of fireflies, a silver bird surveyed Berkeley Square. The scale of the pieces overall seemed less grand than the first go-round, quieter somehow, and the route more surmountable and easily negotiated.
Over at the Winter Lights event at Canary Wharf, a sedateness ruled, a more contemplative mood evoked. A “singing garden” of flashing light was wed to a dulcet soundtrack, a prismatic bauble invited small groups inside to bathe in its reflected pools of colour, a revolving circle of light over a plaza fountain cast tender shadows of itself in the water, rows of spinning platforms (at first glance appearing to levitate) moved in wave-like motions, suggesting transmissions of light and sound to distant planets, translucent pods with spinning motors whirled like particularly excited water drops, and animated squiggles at the base of a wall indicated a virtual pond side. The most impressive piece called for an individual interaction (via an EEG headset) with a tunnel of LED tubes which react with each participant’s personal brain waves and thought patterns, creating an unique light and sound show. Quite a few of the works were interactive in nature, and a fair amount located indoors in the lower levels of the new Crossrail station, content to be more traditional wall-mounted pieces. After the necessary grand efforts of London Lumiere, this more intimately arranged show was the perfect contrast.
Being more visually active pieces, I mostly shot video footage, all of which can be viewed on the Instagram account. In most cases, a mere image cannot provide a true or resonant account of the experience.