By Darren Southgate
Durham is one of my favourite places in the UK, for retained character, intact building fabric and innovative approach to interventions of all types. It would be remiss if I didn’t say its Cathedral, Castle and University are stunning, confident and enlightened and cement Durham as a world-renowned place steeped in history. This of course does not truly state how great a place is when contemporary businesses and culture, often out of view, makes Durham such a rich place to work and live a fulfilling life amongst such history! I regularly travel to Durham for shopping, sightseeing and being calm in the world, amongst great indigenous people from the north and internationals alike.
So why on a very wet November night this weekend, did so many people wander around this city with such big smiles. Well Durham has a festival of light, beautifully called LUMIERE, to bring people together and enjoy the arts. This is my second visit with my partner, and this year, we agreed the installations where spectacular.
Produced by a Charity called Artichoke, they are supported by public, businesses, trusts and foundations to put on this great Festival of Light, the UK’s largest. Commissioned by Durham County Council and supported by Lottery Funding, the Arts Council and major partners in Durham University, Milburngate, Bloomberg Philanthropies, there are dozens of other companies that support in so many ways, too many to mention here, but should receive our thanks for such an amazing festival.
During the festival, the city is alive with art, some are very intimate, you need to be close to them, some are huge and attract big crowds around them. We didn’t get to see all the installations as we were constrained by time and getting to a restaurant on time, but the ones we did, left us in awe, at the artistry, technical ingenuity and of course gave us plenty to chat about!
The ‘Keys of Light’ at Rushford Court, was one of our highlights, pianists of all ages performed their favourite music, as part of an interactive installation. Triggered by sound, each note created a projected graphic onto the building facade, responding to tone, speed and volume of the live music.
Harmonic Portal, located at Castel Chare and Tenter Terrace next to St Godric Church created the most mesmerising environment in light, colour and harmonics. A little eerie to be honest, but kept you there wanting to see more in such a simple arrangement.
Having had a slinky as a kid, seeing one on such a large scale, plays with your sense of scale. Very simple but impactful at Milburngate.
The River Wear, north of Pennyferry Bridge has never felt so like a great ocean! Mysticete is a 3D water screen, back projected to show a Baleen Whale moving through the water, splashing and showcasing to a deeply sensual soundtrack. Its message is about our responsibility to protect these creatures and our environment. A truly beguiling installation.
The Heron on Walkergate Riverside was a revelation of exquisite detail. Now a permanent piece in Durham, its x-ray quality, or as if captured in a camera flash, is a reminder of our natural world in detail. The river was running fast and high after weeks of rain, helping naturalise ‘The Heron’ in its setting.
For us the absolute Pièce de Résistance was the ‘I Love Durham’ giant glittering snow globe encapsulating the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry in the marketplace. The Eton-educated MP and Lord Lieutenant of the County was considered a brutal oppressor of the miners he employed in his pits and his statue has been controversial in recent time over whether it should stay or not. However regardless of political discussion, the idea of a Christmas-style snow globe was a delight to see and, in some ways, a fitting pre-Christmas treat.
Seeing friends out and about added extra depth to our visit, one of my friends and his partner made our train journey ever so more bearable given it was the last party train from Newcastle! I can’t recommend this festival highly enough if you love art and Durham! Enjoy!