Lumiere London

In the crisp dark night of a January evening, we set off to the South Bank to experience the delights of the Lumiere festival. Emily is our guide.


Produced by Artichoke, Lumiere London is an ambitious attempt to bring the intimate magic of Durham Lumiere to the very different environment of our capital. It’s a city-wide extravaganza that is delighting Instagram users for the second year. We focused our evening on the installations south of the river.

Giant illuminated feet, neon lights and chandeliers featured in our encounters while venturing along Waterloo and South Bank. Taken over by the Lumiere festival we found iconic structures such as the Coca-Cola London Eye temporarily transformed. No longer was it a circle of static colour, but now a hypnotic, interchanging light display tracing its inner circle. With its main pathway blocked off we could only view the display from afar, however this misdirection was fortunate as with a look to the left we spied Tony Heatons neon pink Raspberry Ripple, attached to the SouthBank Centre.

Eye Love London on the iconic Coca-cola London Eye

Although missing the letter P from raspberry, the phrase still transported our imaginations to summer foods and holidays to the coast. It wasn’t until we read the Visit London app description that we realised its meaning was a lot more powerful than a ice cream memory. Using the rhyming slang of cripple Heaton attempts to demonstrates the power of words and their ability to oppress certain communities, in this case his focus was disability, a theme that runs through his artistic career.

Walking beside the busily-lit SouthBank Centre we found it sometimes tricky to spot the illuminated installations. This introduced an entertaining game between us, keeping our eyes peeled to be the first to spot the next display. As we looked up and around we finally spotted the Sixty minute spectrum on the Hayward Gallery roof. A chromatic clock alternating between colours every 60 minutes, it’s purpose is to challenge our perceptions of colour in cities and question the way we view it in this ever changing technological era (apparently).

Jack in awe of The Wave

Further along there was definitely one installation which grabbed all our attention… The Wave. 40 triangular tubes that changed colour and emitted sound when walked through. This was a very popular part of the Lumiere festival with people lining up to go through! Thankfully we arrived at a calmer time. Of course we still had to negotiate the selfie-stick lovers but that’s all part of the experience (and we didn’t shy away from taking our own pics). We ambled through the intriguing sci-fi audio and the buzzing light show that glowed in the dark winter night.

The Wave by Vertigo

Although The Wave was the most striking and obvious installation along South Bank it was actually one of the more discrete displays where we spent the most time.

Bottle Feston in Bernie Spain Gardens

Situated in the Bernie Spain Gardens we were transfixed by what looked like floating jellyfish. A closer inspection actually showed them to be ‘chandeliers’ made from recycled bottles, a concept inspired by artist Thadian Pillai’s message in a bottle idea. Developed through a community project the Bottle Feston had invited local community groups from Greenwich, Redbridge and Lewisham to bring along empty bottles to workshops designed to transform them into these intriguing structures.

Bottle Feston in Bernie Spain Gardens

As we continued along our preplanned route we found ourselves outside the OXO Towers’ permanent light display Bough 1, by Simon Corder. An array of neon coloured  fluorescent tubes scaling the building walls. Of course some of our team had already seen this display when they had used this location for a South Bank photo shoot, so what better place to take our Cog night team photo.

Bough 1 on the side of the OXO Tower

Slipping off the South Bank walkway we searched for the final piece in our trail. Heading into a quiet one way street, many of us started to question where the display could possibly be as we could see no lights and very few people in this area. It wasn’t until we reached the end of the road and were turning back that we saw a giant pair or feet projected against the Rambert building. Light on their feet is a collaboration between David Ward and the Rambert dance company, designed to show the different interactions between surfaces and the foot. Watching these feet gently transition from one to another you got a real sense of the shifting weights and pressures. It prompted some heated debate about what kind of dancer and dancing had been used for the piece. 

Light on their feet with the National Theatre projecting OSC-L in the background

I found the Lumiere Festival (at least, the Waterloo and South Bank leg of it) intriguing but perhaps a little too spread out; perhaps that is always an issue in a city as large as London, and an area as spread out as the South Bank. I was impressed by the different scales and physical positioning of the works at different levels. That variety created an interactive game for us, provoking our attention and prompting increased interest in the visual concepts.

It would have been nice to have a physical sign or marker at the artworks although I can see the difficulties associated with that. We were reliant on the accompanying Visit London app to provide details. It worked very well but was perhaps a distraction from the physical experience. 

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and would be keen to revisit next year, and to expand my reach across the rest of the city. But I’ll make sure I put on an extra layer to keep out the cold.

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