Painting with light

by Clive Weatherley

Using light as a medium is not particularly new in the realms of art and design –contemporary galleries regularly feature installations involving lighting elements or projection. And in 2001 Martin Creed controversially won the Turner Prize with his Work 277, basically an empty room in which lights flickered on and off every few seconds.

But ‘light art’ needn’t produce that kind of polarising reaction – in fact it’s hard to imagine anyone not being totally enchanted by Lumière London which came to the capital for the first time this year. Lumière started in Durham in 2009 as a one-off but has returned to that city every two years since. This year the organisers Artichoke – also famous for The Sultan’s Elephant that strolled through London and the giant spider that terrorised Liverpool – decided to bring their work to a larger audience, and triumphed.

So a Saturday night in January saw myself and two friends wrapped up against the cold, and following a map to selected areas encountering illuminated art which was by turns clever, breathtaking, amusing or just plain weird. They included:

• Giant colour-changing carp ‘swimming’ gracefully above Piccadilly

• An elephant walking and trumpeting in Regent Street

• Neon bird boxes in an open-air café near Selfridges, each one ‘inhabited’ with audible chirping

• Balloon-style light dogs, complete with bones and dog-poops

• A red telephone box transformed into an illuminated aquarium, complete with real fish

• An enormous building façade on which countless neon stickmen acted out their animated adventures

• And, for me the highlight, the entrance of Westminster Abbey flooded with colour: with all the normally plain stone carved figures and decoration brought to life with a breathtaking degree of detail and intensity

My photos give an idea but cannot truly capture Lumière’s vivid colours, clever animation – or sheer atmosphere: pockets of London thronging with people, for once not shopping or spilling drunkenly out of bars but there purely for the ingenuity and beauty of art and design.

www.lumiere-festival.com