Ambitious City of Culture finale will light up Derry

Lumiere festival in Durham was unforgettable, and the company behind it has exciting plans for Derry

Seeing the light: The Lindisfarne Gospels projected on Durham Cathedral

Seeing the light: The Lindisfarne Gospels projected on Durham Cathedral

 

How many people does it take to change a Derry lightbulb? “About 500,” says Helen Marriage, co-director of the London-based Artichoke arts company, which has just staged a successful Lumiere festival in Durham and this weekend will put on a similar extravaganza of light and flame in the Maiden City.

Artichoke – a sort of English version of Macnas – has a mission statement, which is “to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever”.

The 150,000 people who experienced Lumiere in Durham over four nights recently will know that the company lives up to its intent. The spectacle was an unforgettable experience, and Derry should be in for a mighty, luminous bash as part of the finale of its 12 months as UK City of Culture from this Thursday to Sunday.

It’s an undertaking with a real wow factor. When you consider all the artists, the lighting experts, the riggers, the hundreds of local volunteers and all those lightbulb changers, it will indeed involve up to 500 people, says Marriage.

To get a sense of the ambition of Lumiere, see Durham Cathedral, below, with a rolling version of the Lindisfarne Gospels unfolding on its massive frontage, the sound of pealing bells, Benedictine plainchant and an almost-full moon against a black sky adding to the haunting atmosphere. What St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, reposing inside, thought of the whole venture is anyone’s guess, but it certainly impressed the multitude who visited the cathedral. An imagined comparison could be the Book of Kells animated on, say, the Custom House in Dublin.


‘Consumerist Christmas tree’
Other installations in Durham included a nine-metre high “consumerist Christmas tree” made from illuminated plastic rubbish bags; an enormous and loudly trumpeting 3D elephant; an aquarium inside a red British telephone box; and brightly coloured, lit-up watering cans at Durham’s North Road roundabout.

None of the 17 installations in Derry will be quite on the Durham Cathedral scale but some of them will be sizeable. For instance, Ocubo from Portugal will stage Twice Upon a Time at the old British army base at Ebrington. This will feature illuminated and animated artwork created by 100 local primary schoolchildren.

Another landmark site will be Austins in Derry city centre, reputed to be the oldest department store in the world. This will see another large-scale projection inspired by the writings of Jules Verne and created by the British Novak group.

Derry’s new Peace Bridge over the Foyle will have suspended human sculptures made of light created by Cédric Le Borgne from France.

There will be a trail of light through Derry that tens of thousands of people will follow to witness displays such as 14m-high illuminated conical inflatable sculptures at Queen’s Quay; coloured neon dogs at the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall; a huge-scale magical fire garden in St Columb’s Park; and Teenage Kicks at the high-rise BT exchange building featuring, in bright letters on its roof, the Undertones lyric “a teenage dream’s so hard to beat”.


Green will be orange
There will even be a deliberately confusing Orange and Green illuminated display, based on an effect known as “regional brain conflict”. Green will be orange and orange will be green. Now there’s an idea.

Derry will have its own programme, with only one of the 27 Durham installations being staged in the city. But the general effect of awe-inspiring and occasionally screwball street theatre should be the same. “Lumiere is a gigantic outdoor gallery but presented in an approachable way so people feel they don’t need a degree in art history to know what we are doing,” says Lumiere co-director Nicky Webb. “It will make people look at buildings they might have seen a thousand times before but that they never really saw before. It gives people a sense of the architectural beauty of their city.”

Durham Lumiere cost about £1.4 million (€1.7 million) while the Derry version will cost about £1 million. In terms of additional visitors, it should be worth up to £4 million.


Lumiere runs Thursday to Sunday

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