Lumiere London was an interesting experience. It was very cold on both nights that I went and all traffic was stopped in most major West End streets. So we could all walk in the middle of the street and have a totally different perspective of the city. An anarchic pattern of movement emerged that was not dictated by cars and traffic but from the random trajectories of people.
Walking down Regent street towards Piccadilly Circus I was even reminded of 28 days later because of the car-less streets. Still, regardless of the fact that we were not moving according to the usual London rules, we were as consumerist as ever.
Once I had started visiting the sites there was no stopping me. I had to see them all, as if I was collecting them, and so were a lot of others with maps or their special lumiere apps on their phones. There were also plenty of photographers with tripods looking very serious. In fact at Piccadilly Circus I saw a man filming “Voyage” (by Camille Griss and Leslie Epsztein) with both a camera on a tripod and a smart phone, looking at the two screens simultaneously.
I have strong suspicions that this person did not engage emotionally with with the art. A sign of our times where people photograph their food when they go to a restaurant to the point that they forget to eat it while it is still warm.
Some of the people were looking at the lights but most were looking at them through their lenses or on their phone screens. Which explains how often art and architecture, look better on pictures than they do in reality. There is no doubt that something being photogenic adds to its value and marketability.
So, some of the lumiere exhibits photographed well but did not produce a memorable experienced immediately. Some were both compelling in person as they were on “film” and a few of them were hardly noticeable in pictures but the actual experience was magical when there. Like [M]ondes by Atsara on Mount Street Gardens in Mayfair. Lines of light were projected on a building’s façade through a cluster of tense wires giving the effect of fireflies. The experience was enhanced because in the background one could faintly hear the sound of another installation, Illumaphonium (by Michael Davis)
where the viewers interacted with the exhibit to produce a sweet soundtrack that reminded me of summer nights by the beach, when actually I was literally freezing.
Another of my favourite installations, was the one I encountered the following day at the rather sci-fi environment of Kings’ Cross. It was Aether (by Architecture Social Club and Max Cooper) where lights were projected from two sources on a grid of metal rods accompanied by an electronic soundtrack.
King’s Cross’ large housing blocks around which the exhibits were located, were more impressive than the art itself though. They looked as if they grew out of the ground all at the same time like the buildings in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil dream sequence. They are orderly and new but they lacked the strange refinement of cities which emerge organically and not as part of an incredibly expensive project.
I was looking at the art and thinking of politics and regeneration. What was the meaning of this elaborate gesture in art installations? The traffic was stopped which definitely had an effect on commerce. Was this advertising for the sponsors? Or was the whole shebang aiming to brand London, making it a unique tourist destination which competes with the other European cities.
On Piccadilly Circus the organisers did not or could not turn off the lights of the massive video billboards right next to “Voyage”. The eye was inevitably drawn to them as they were much brighter. The art seemed almost irrelevant and faded compared to the power of the advertisement. And that was rather symbolic of the city as an unstoppable machine with its purpose, above all, to urge us to consume.