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Lumiere: the good, the bad and the washed out [Nov. 23rd, 2015|10:32 pm]
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The Bears were with us for the weekend of Lumiere, so we made a serious effort to see things. This stopped short of getting the tickets which would give access to the central area in the early evening: tickets were free, but required us to decide which evening we wanted them.

Instead, on Friday evening we set off after an early dinner, planning to see some local items and then make our way onto the peninsula as soon as free access started. First stop was very local indeed; "On a quiet residential street, a red brick terraced house came alive with true stories from across the county," says the Lumiere website, apparently unaware that, like so many of the old terraces of Durham City, Hawthorn Terrace is dominated by student lets. At this time of year it bristles with 'to let' signs, which rather gives the game away - but that's a whole other post. For the duration of Lumiere it was "Home Sweet Home Durham", a ten minute video projected onto the front of the house, now picking out the actual windows and door, now showing a bungalow or a coal mine, while residents talked about their homes. Once it even acknowledged that students do live here:

A cappella

with a young man explaining how he had met his housemates through a cappella singing. The illusion was very convincing: we had to return by daylight to convince ourselves that there was no screen (except at the windows), the projection was direct onto the front of the house.

At the end of the North Road there was more projection, giant climbers scaling the viaduct: fun to spot as you walked past, not very interesting to stand and watch. Fortunately there were enough youngsters around who were willing to light up the 'stained glass' car in the North Road by pedal power, but the result wasn't really worth the effort. This brought us to Framwelgate Bridge and the entrance to the ticketed zone: now open to all, but very congested, with forbidding signs still up, and marshals shouting at us not to stop, to keep moving. So I barely saw the projection onto the Castle, and was sorry to miss it. The lanterns standing in for street lights were pretty, though, and so were the Luminéoles in the Market Place: this video on Vimeo shows a flock of them high in the sky, but we had just the two, so low that you could walk among them, so I did:

Big fishes

This sweet moment of interactivity buoyed me up to face the crowds on the walk up to the cathedral - actually, not that terrible, and there were more pretty lanterns to light our way. The son et lunière was spectacular, of course: there's no way that son et lunière on Durham cathedral is going to fall short of spectacular. This is a new show, called 'The World Machine', a celebration of cosmology from the twelfth century to the present, put together with the help of eminent scientists. There's a learned commentary on the University website, but I can't find any explanation of the striped pyjamas:


The sad truth, though, was that the original son et lunière had used all the material that you would choose if you had a free choice; it was simple, and directly related to the cathedral. This was inpressive, but second-best. Having watched it once, we then got a second performance from a different angle, as we made our way through the maze of barriers, presumably designed to stop the cathedral itself becoming overcrowded: but it did mean we spent longer in the queue while the sound thundered and the lights shone and the rain fell all around us than we had actually watching the show in the first place. Inside the cathedral, a piece called 'Complex Meshes' was projecting shifting lines onto the vaulting, and again there were ushers urging us not to hang around looking at it, but to move on down the nave. We kept going without regret, out into the cloister, to a pleasant surprise:

Name of the rose

I had not expected much from Mick Stephenson's Litre of Light: one of the rare pieces specially commissioned for Durham Lumiere, it had a public participation element (people were invited to donate plastic bottles) and a charitable purpose too (they were also invited to donate cash) and while all of these are good things in their own right, often we have to settle for that and not demand artistic success as well. But this great glowing rose window was warming to my chilly spirit.

Out into the magic garden: but I've already posted about that. We could have turned left out of the College, and seen the bicycles outside Hatfield, and I'm sorry to have missed them. But at the time we thought there was no option but to turn right, and head towards home, and I wasn't sorry to do that. The garden escapes continued along the Bailey, with single plants here and there, and the map showed one last outpost of the garden at the far end of Prebends Bridge. But what we found there was something completely different, a spiky alien growth:

The Martians have landed

Here, too, there were marshals encouraging us to join the flow of people heading along the riverbanks, but we looked at the dark and muddy path, and took the track uphill to South Street, making only the briefest diversion to peer through the trees at Fogscape a patch of light and fog below the cathedral, a reference, apparently, to the story of 'Saint Cuthbert's Mist'. Interesting, and perhaps we would find a way to get a better look another time, but for now we were ready to go home.

On Saturday we went out early, leaving a casserole in the oven, to see what we could see outside the ticketed area. We took the steps down from Milburngate Bridge, scurried away from the constantly morphing faces of Emma Allen's 'Ruby' (and when I say 'we', I mean 'I' - others were prepared to linger, but I found it spooky and disquieting), refused to venture inside the loading bay for something involving storytelling (me again; and I spoke later to someone who had very much enjoyed this, but her enthusiasm did not change my feeling that it wasn't what I was looking for at this point). I wanted something visual: and I wanted to keep moving - it was beginning to rain, and the forecast promised that once it started it would not stop. In the circumstances, the rain cloud tucked into Durham's ugliest, and soon to be demolished, building was more cheering than not:

It makes him very proud to be a little cloud

Constructed from light bulbs, it gave both light and shelter to the small children who clustered underneath it. It's possible that pulling those strings caused something to happen, but how would I know? There was allegedly more interactivity on offer from the mesh that dangled over the river - "the underpants," said BoyBear, but I thought of a jelly bag. Artist Janet Echelman called it '1.26 Durham', referring to the effect of the 2010 Chilean earthquake, which was so strong that it briefly, speeded up the rotation of the earth, shortening the day by 1.26 microseconds. The shape of the sculpture in some way models NASA data about this. In theory, visitors could use their smartphones to change the colours displayed, but durham_rambler was unable to make it work. This may or may not be why for most of the time we watched it, the piece was solid red: but it was much more interesting when the colours shifted.

Jelly bag

Across the river, we visited Fowlers Yard, where someone had built a giant wave out of an enormous number of pieces of sea glass. I'd seen other people's photos of this, and thought it looked impressive, but found the thing itself disappointingly static. BoyBear was very impressed by the two men in overalls struggling (and failing) to open the inspection hatch in the back of it: "How often do you see a wave with an inspection hatch?"

Something even more interesting was happening down behind Millennium Place, in the narrow roadway between where the builders working on the new offices have colonised the riverside, and the back wall of Walkergate. People walking between the projector and the wall created interference, shadows of black and white repeating and rising through the white and black stripes:


The picture doesn't do it justice (though the umbrellas were a nice touch): it needs to be seen in motion. Luckily, there are some videos of earlier installations linked from the artists' website: here it is at Lumiere Derry, two years ago. This video from the Centre Pompidou illustrates the effect beautifully, though at the cost of losing some of the free-for-all playfulness:

We took the lift up into Millennium Place, saw the giant knitting on the wall of the library (what can I say? It was giant knitting) and, because we had no tickets and so could not go through the Market Place, walked round the road to Elvet. I sulked a little, because the Market Place was not busy, and I thought they could have dropped the requirement: yes, it could have been necessary to control the numbers, but the rain seemed to be doing that for them. Oh, well. Likewise, no access to Elvet Bridge, and we saw the whale (prefaced by a declaration of solidarity with Paris) from Elvet Riverside carpark, and therefore in mirror image. I thought it technically clever, spraying up a curtain of river water onto which images could be projected, but I felt uninvolved: blame the viewpoint, the cold, the wet - or maybe I'd already peaked.

Likewise, there were people in the garden in front of the court who seemed to be having great fun casting shadows onto a screen, but I didn't care. I wanted to see Old Shire Hall in all its glory:

Old Shire Hall

and glorious it was. But it just stood there, being glorious. We thought of the house in Hawthorn Terrace, and agreed we'd have liked Shire Hall better if something had been happening, and that we were ready to go home now.

We didn't go back for more on Sunday: we discussed it, and tried to work out whether we could get to the riverbanks without going all the way through the city, but I don't think we would have tried. Then durham_rambler found the news reports that the pieces we were talking about had been removed because the river had flooded the footpath, so we had every excuse for a leisurely dinner en famille instead.

tl:dr version: I don't think there was anything I hated, though there was a lot I was unenthusiastic about. And I enjoyed being unenthusiastic about it in good company. Plus, there were maybe three things I liked very much. Whether the exercise is worth what the Council puts into it, I don't know. But I had a fun weekend.

[User Picture]From: gillpolack
2015-11-24 12:27 am (UTC)
I've all these visual feasts. Ours is in March and almost all of it is projection onto public buildings.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-11-24 10:22 am (UTC)
Projection onto buildings seems to be flavour of the month: four years ago (!) I was complaining that every other piece was neon writing, this year I didn't see any of those (I believe there was one, repeated from last time, but I didn't see it).

And you could easily have seen some of these exact things: original pieces commissioned just for this show are very much a minority!
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-11-24 03:07 pm (UTC)
Heh. I always know that if I'm writing about Durham, I'm talking to you!

Go to the panto without you? Wouldn't dream of it! Sorry.

And I'd love to see what magical ballgown they put Cinderella in.

But you know that Cinderella's ballgown will be as nothing compared to the Dame...
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2015-11-24 09:02 pm (UTC)
'not that terrible' was not, on this occasion, a Gallicism; though I admit that it could have been. Just 'not that bad.'

Pretty pictures: though the Orkney Islands are no more my immediate neighbours than Brittany is yours (I wish).
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