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Lumiere: For the birds [Nov. 21st, 2017|10:19 pm]
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We have just had the weekend of Lumiere, Durham's biennial festival of lights. As usual we made some expeditions to see what was on show, and, as usual, my reactions were pretty mixed. For the first two evenings they ranged from "Oh, that's quite nice..." to "Let me out of here, NOW!" And I hope to expand on that later. But on Saturday we went to the Botanic Gardens to see For the Birds, with no idea what to expect beyond what the Lumiere website told us: "a meditative and immersive journey through the wilderness to discover over 20 light and sound installations inspired by birds and created by a collective of artists:" Useful practical information might have added: "You enter by the gate adjacent to the Park & Ride, walk the length of the Gardens, and back, leaving through the same gate you came in."

What they really couldn't say, I suppose, is that this was by some margin the best thing in the Festival. Also the hardest to photograph, because it makes the best use of darkness.

But wrap up warm and come for a walk in the dark woods. Just follow the little white lights:

The path into the woods

The path really was that dark, but your eyes attune, and the trees are lit in pretty colours, which is distraction enough that it takes a moment to realise that a whole lot of crows have settled on that picnic table:


Look up. There are more crows clustered in the tree; and something has just flown past overhead, whirring and squawking and carrying a bright light.

We followed the path round and down to the pool, very glad that the paths of the gardens were familiar, and wondering how the organisers had squared this with Health and Safety (there were volunteers standing at every junction, and maybe this explains it). The woodland garden was loud with the song of caged cuckoos -

Cuckoo ensemble

- oh, caged cuckoo clock mechanisms. Well, of course. Up the steps, very cautiously, and as far as the big pool below the café. where a video shows a solemn German bird imitator, twofold, perfectly mirrored in the dark water. On the grass next to the hothouse, four screens had been set up, each with the image of a cage outlined on its bright rectangle of colour. Not, as I thought at first, more video, but shadows of real cages hanging behind the screens:

Shadow birdcages

Next door, in the Alpine garden, a storm of white feathers were spinning like tiny dervishes. Then an arc of feathers printed white on the dark hedge, then a single feather, the full height of a slender conifer, and then another to match...

We emerged onto the path that leads in spring through the daffodils and the cherry blossom to the Japanese garden. Where else would you hang origami cranes, casting their pterodactyl shadows? Like many of the installations in the festival, For the birds has already been shown elsewhere

Origami cranes

Like many of the installations in the festival, For the birds has already been shown elsewhere, but I appreciated this acknowledgment of its actual location.

Down the steps and follow the path down, intermittently lit by cages hanging from the trees, emerging from the obscurity then gradually disappearing, through the eerie noises to the gate that marks the beginning of the woodland proper. Just beyond it, frames hung just above head height, lit in turn to show ghostly images of speadeagled birds (when I learned that these were bird collision imprints I thought "Of course!", but I hadn't worked it out for myself) while a sonorous voice recited something in an unknown language: my fist thought was 'Sindarin?', but my second was 'Welsh', which turns out to be correct (Gwilum Morus reciting Ymadawiad Arthur - 'Arthur's Departure' by T. Gwynn Jones, for the record).

Even if I hadn't known that the path would take us no further - nowhere I was prepared to walk tonight, anyway - this felt pretty final. We turned back, through the cage-haunted wood, through the bamboo garden which had turned into a green tunnel lit by stripes of white light, out to where the stream runs between the silver birches. These are spectacularly bright in normal sunlight, so I was expecting to see a lot of light here, but no, the lighting was subtle. Instead, each tree carried a speaker from which voices sang in canon Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree... The various versions of this song on YouTube give no hint of how melancholy and wistful it can be.

Nearly home, now, but there are still things to see as the path rises back towards the entrance:

Piano migrations

Twangling music makes us look to where a screen among the trees shows video of birds molesting a stripped down piono; then a different kind of music, a cluster of music boxes programmed to play notes determined by the patterns of migrating birds. Then we are back on the path to the entrance, passing the crows, and out into the unmagical world:

Parliament of crows

For the birds was devised in 2014 for the RSPB's Ynys-hir reserve. There are photographs on the website of one of the artists ihvolved.

Overheard of the evening: "But why would they have an installation of a crying child?"

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.