Durham Lumiere Festival 2011

Best of the Festival….

Gathering audio for months for radio and the Lumiere’s webpage has made this festival a large part of my life and now it’s come to an end it’s time to reflect on it without my bias from working with the organisers and my need to create good news and quality Journalism from it.

Overall I think I feel a bit deflated about it all. It should have been an amazing, exciting celebration of Durham, that brought in millions for the local economy, made art accessible for all and united visitors, residents and students.

But it didn’t break down any of those barriers. The local pubs didn’t benefit from all the visitors because people were so fed up of the poor crowd management they went home – or had to go home because the last Park and Ride bus left at 10pm despite the festival finishing at 11. Nonetheless I carried out my research in two of Durham’s pubs…

The first was full of residents hiding from the maddness outside they seemed to want nothing to do with. In the second I shared a rare moment of laughter with my father as three dead sheep teetered in on heels vying to encumber movement more than the garish lycra frumpily thrust down with thumbs in an effort to sexily trip into the nearest chair.

The dinner dates and saturday night on the town carried on inside the City as four times as many visitors as 2009 crammed down the streets complaining of bad organisation and darkness – both oblivious to the other.

I’ll get to the art soon but first a word has to go to the various areas that Artichoke, the organisers, and Durham Council sadly failed in.

The Park and Ride

This was advertised as free and the best option but it cost about £1.70 each and there were queues backed up to the motorway roundabout to get in, not because there were no spaces left, but because there was little organisation to get people in quickly. A taxi driver I met reckoned there were about 50-60 thousand people there on Saturday night alone and more on Thursday. He may be right but there were certainly a lot of people trying to use the park and ride, yet there weren’t enough stewards, not enough information and only one pay machine. In Belmont Park & Ride there were 3 stewards for the whole place and they were all sat in the office doing nothing as hundreds of people queued for one machine. When I asked I was told we could pay on the bus, but the bus driver said they weren’t supposed to and the steward ‘would say anything to get the queue down’. The last buses back to the Park & Ride left Durham at 10pm – despite the festival finishing at 11. The Park & Ride stewards knew very little about local buses. We were told there might be a number 20 that runs until 11.30. If they had been running later could some of the local pubs and restaurants have benefited more?

Crowd Control

When Thursday night defended into chaos and I heard reports that people were kettled and scared I spoke to people I knew would be down there and Artichoke themselves. Artichoke originally estimated they had 300 stewards but the real figure turned out to be  200. Half were art loving volunteers, half were professionals working for a company called ‘Make it Happen’. Almost all weren’t from Durham and had no idea of the city’s geography, they were only there for security. For instance, one I spoke to was from Holland and had never been to Durham before. I asked one where an installation was that turned out to be about 5 meters from where he was stationed, yet he had no idea where it was. Most  stewards stood together blocking roads off, telling people where they couldn’t go with loudspeakers, they weren’t dotted about to direct people.

Safety Fears

The Kingsgate Bridge was closed off because after the first night there were fears the bridge wasn’t stable for the crowds (it’s been blocked off for a while previous to the festival). This forced people to walk along the dark country paths along the river and families with children were told not to walk there. It also meant you could easily end up on the wrong side of the one-way system. Many people in the crowds from all four nights reported feeling confused, with no idea where to go. Having worked in Durham for several weeks now, walking the city with organisers and local artists/historians, I knew where every piece was and could nip down back roads. If you didn’t know the geography it would have been very difficult.

I spoke to some policemen – again as a spectator – who said Thursday was horrendous. One said ‘how anyone didn’t get hurt I have no idea’. The taxi driver also said they’d had a lot of their ranks taken out but they hadn’t been warned it was going to happen.

The reason Thursday had scared people was because the festival started at 6pm with a wonderful lantern parade involving 200 children from County Durham who’d worked with local artists trained by the Liverpool Lantern Company. Most people logically assumed the whole festival started at 6, but the most popular installations at the Cathedral started at 6.45 to make way for Evensong. This created a bottle-neck of people coming up to the Cathedral and not moving on. To make matters worse none of the installations were turned on and the street lights were turned off to save electricity and enhance the effect of the light works, so it was pitch black.

It had been billed as a family festival, and despite organisers asking people not to bring wheelchairs, buggies and dogs, people inevitably did. If you have a small child of course you’re going to bring a buggy. All were packed into cobbled streets in the pitch black. Ross Ashton’s Crown of Light was then delayed by a further 10 minutes due to a technical malfunction.

When it did start, the atmosphere was incredible. Tens of thousands watched it in absolute silence and applauded at the end.

But what happened after will no doubt haunt the police, the organisers and parents. All these people had to get out of Palace Green – down narrow cobbled streets. A one-way system was implemented, but the maps didn’t show it as it was only a last resort only to be used if necessary. There were only 200 stewards across the whole city, many dressed in black, and shepherding people by standing in large groups and shouting down loudhailers only audible from 5 people away.

People climbed fences and became frightened.

The organisers blamed the crowds for bringing dogs, buggies and for not listening to instructions because ‘people don’t like to be directed’.

Many have whispered ‘it could have been another Hillsborough’. But I think that’s probably going too far. The fact is no-one was hurt more than on a usual weekend night in Durham. But to blame the crowds alone is also not fair. Callers to the Alfie and Charlie Breakfast Show on the morning after the weekend asked why the organisers of derby day matches at St James’ Park weren’t consulted over crowd control plans. There is a lesson to be learnt because it was an incredible festival that could also have been an enjoyable one with better and more radical organisation.

The Lineup

The show’s organisation could have learnt a thing or two from the lineup, which was more local this year.


There were 5 ‘Brilliant’ projects funded by the local arts council:

  • Mick Stephenson’s Fusion
  • Verity Quinn and Bethan Maddocks’ Ad Astra Per Aspera
  • Luma Labs’ Global Curiosity Shop
  • Deadgood’s Rainbow
  • Martin Warden’s Bridges

Fusion, Mick Stephenson

When I first saw this in Mick’s garage in October it already looked impressive. Mick’s the kind of guy you immediately warm to. He speaks softly and breathes passion for his art. You wouldn’t notice it was his first artwork – he’s actually a builder, though he was a lighting designer for many years too. Fusion is in Mick’s words ‘a collection of things you’d normally throw away’. Bottles, glue sticks, disposable picnic kits illuminated in front of thousands of LEDs. Fitting beautifully in the Gala’s ‘G’ this is a piece I’d like to see remain.

Ad Astra Per Aspera, Verity Quinn & Bethan Maddocks

These two lovely young ladies are kind and sensible and worked beautifully with colliery bands and ex-mining communities in Durham to represent their hopes and nostalgia for their area on mining banners strung above the crowds in place of christmas lights. They subtly reflected the city’s long history with the mining galas. I had the opportunity to join one of their workshops and greatly enjoyed hearing the Ferryhill Colliery Band play.

Global Curiosity Shop, Luma Labs

Dale and Richard are two seriously cool geeks fresh out of Northumbria University’s Animation Department. Paul Goodfellow came up with the idea of an antiques or bric-a-brac shop covered in futuristic displays of data and all those things you don’t see. Sue Sweeney’s journey into their warehouse lock-up is must-hear radio.

Rainbow, Deadgood

Elliot and Dan are really furniture designers who live under Newcastle’s historic railway bridges. Well not literally, but that’s where their studio is. Their piece was one I was particularly excited for…it created a rainbow you could actually walk through, and bathe yourself in colour. The beams of light used were the same technology used to bring planes down from 12,000 feet, but to create the mist of colour they needed some X Factor smoke…or mist. One of the great successes of the event was therefore also it’s downfall: the weather. This would have looked amazing on a soggy November evening, but what we got was a festival-friendly dry, mild night.

Bridges, Martin Warden

One of the subtlest pieces but also the most effective. This piece joined up all the others and made 35 artworks into a festival celebrating Durham. Martin’s work is also incredibly understated because he secretly made most of it happen – he’s a lighting designer from Gateshead with a company called Hi Lights and Artichoke’s Technical Director.

And…the opening Lantern Parade by Jo Pocock’s Liverpool Lantern Company, local artists and 200 children…like these guys:


Crown of Light, Ross Ashton

The only piece that convinced my father to put his camera away. It tells the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels, projecting them in a  light wrap on the outside of the cathedral accompanied with a chilling soundtrack that starts with Holy Island’s monks chanting at dawn.

Spirit, Compagnie Carabosse

This was an interesting interview. French artist Gerard Court told me ‘we’re not perfectly stupid…it’s not dangerous…it’s just big candles.’ Unfortunately I have no idea if his spooky wire vests and giant fireball made up of large candles in clay pots really succeeded in looking like an imposing giant ball of fire because the Cathedral closed early with poor communication.

I Love Durham, Jaques Rival

This should really have been called the Snowdome – because that’s what it was and that’s what everybody called it. It was a nice idea to create a giant picture postcard in the market place but many felt the large ‘I Love Durham’ sign was cheesy and unnecessary. It encapsulated the controversial statue of Lord Londonderry, which was moved a few meters up to allow for a modern performance space about two years ago, much to the dismay of many a hardened local. There was talk of facing him away to forever be on the verge of launching himself down Silver Street in disgust, but he continues to look towards the action and for the Lumiere he commanded snow flakes in his giant snow shaker. I loved it.

Splash, Peter Lewis

The most ironically named piece of the Lumiere. ‘Splash’ is a 40m waterfall constructed off the Kingsgate Bridge, pumping gallons of water over the edge to be illuminated in soft colours. It was beautiful and unbelievably peaceful, in keeping with it’s creator who is charming and more at home in the country with his family. His memory of Durham is a beautiful one. His granddaughter – who he dotes on – is unwell with Leukemia and he prayed for her in the Cathedral. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful man and I felt honoured to have met him.


Lightwriting, Ira Lightman and Richard Wolfstrome

Conceptual poet from Rowlands Gil, Ira, and his team of story-makers at Catchgate Primary School let me accompany them on a whorl wind of pterodactyls and elephants that make demands in supermarkets. These stories were told on the four sides of a cube, accompanied by sounds to give a 3D experience of a story. Unfortunately the sound didn’t seem to be working and you couldn’t get round the cube fast enough to read all the story so you never got the punchline, but I love the idea.

60 Second Cathedral, Domink Lejman

A polish artist who actually convinced people to jump out of a plane while creating the shape of Durham’s Cathedral Vault mid-free fall. The resulting projection worked beautifully because, the artist told me, it was an overcast day so the clouds created the perfect backdrop to see the synchronised skydivers clearly.


Plenum, Simeon Nelson

If you didn’t walk along the dark riverside mud path from Prebends Bridge’s Rainbow, you might not have stumbled upon this dreamlike kaleidoscope projected onto St Oswald’s Church. It was a computer-randomised depiction of the Big Bang fusing the artist’s view that religion and science complement each other. Apparently the church love it.  I could have stayed there for hours.

Closely followed by…

Les Voyagers, Cedric Le Borgne

My mother and I wondered if we’d ever get my snap-happy father up the cobbled street as we swam the wrong way against the one-way system. These simple mesh figures hauntingly lit were utterly beautiful. It would be great to have them there permanently.


Wish Comet, Jana Matejkova – This piece would have looked wonderful. Jana is a brave yet softly spoken lady who spent a lot of time with Durham’s female prisoners and their families to depict their hopes and dreams on wristbands illuminated in UV light. Because the Lumiere really did permeate all of Durham, there’s another piece on display inside the prison that isn’t open to the public.

Hartmann Grid, Leonardo Meigas – Totally bonkers but I had to go and see it after an interesting day trying to comprehend how Leonardo’s wire fish called a Hartmann’s Nipple could detect energy currents responsible for giving Victorian germans cancer. We walked the spot together several weeks before on a less magical rainy October day but the result was kinda fun.

Pimp Pallets & Festival, David Batchelor – I saw this by accident while trying to find a pub at the end of the evening because it was the kind of piece you had to walk past 3 times before realising it was actually a work of art and not just someone trying to flog some lights – which is ironic given that it needed a security guard to sit out all night guarding it’s gallery loaned self from 5pm until 8am.

LEDs Dance, Dorota Kraft – She’s beautifully softly spoken and I love the idea of creating essentially a giant dance mat for families to come and interact with in Wharton Park. It was a little out of way and I hope families did brave the park, which was made accessible to all at night – but did any families actually do it?


Well the festival wouldn’t be complete without a few oddballs…

Capitalism Kills Love , Claire Fontaine – does what it says on the tin. A neon sign that having spoken to the artist really doesn’t have any more profound meaning than that.

Utopia, Alexandre D Costa – my parents had to be shown this 3 times because they didn’t realise it was art. Flickering neon tubes spelling the word Utopia on the grey corrugated roof of the ice rink overlooking Durham’s most industrial sight. According to Martin Warden it was also one of the hardest to implement due to stringing it’s heavy mass onto a precarious roof.

Binary Waves, Lab Au – this seemed to do nothing more exciting than lead you to the Radisson Hotel, one of the show’s sponsors.

Be Faithful to Your Dreams, Tracey Emin – I like Tracey Emin’s work but this one didn’t succeed in drawing me way up to St Nicholas’ Chapel on the outskirts of the city.

Anglepoise, Edmund Francis – totally pointless? But then I didn’t go to see it. It’s a giant lamp. I struggled to make our interview stretch much further.

Helvetictoc, Tobie Langel – I’m not going to lie, it was just a clock?

Liquid Space, Daan Roosegaarde – alright but I didn’t see the point? Possibly would have been better placed in a wood rather than the Gates Shopping Centre.

Metamorph, Boo Beaumont – sadly I didn’t see this. Did you? What did you think?

But I liked these anyway….

A New Moon, Claire Morgan – I liked this but that may be because of the inadvertent Midsummer Night’s Dream reference and association with Peter Brook’s brilliant version of it. It may also be because Claire’s a really nice lady who realises that its incomplete wasteland look is what makes it a self-aware pretentious piece of contemporary art, and for that it shares the hilarity of its situation with you.

Everything is Going to Be Alright, Martin Creedy – one of the most hilarious interviews of my life. Martin is literally a depressed scotsman writing what all depressives hear resounding in their abyss in the neon lights that expose the words’ crude unfeeling behaviour. Needless to say my depressed father loved it. As did local historian Martin Roberts, who told me the garish red brick of the building it was placed on caused uproar amongst the Victorians, but has mellowed to become quite attractive over the years, until we now appreciate it’s Victorian architecture, so everything has indeed turned out to be alright.

The Future Will be Confusing, Tim Etchells – I like the irony of this neon sign being stuck on the Uni Modern Languages Building at a time when students’ future is uncertain thanks to tuition fee rises and youth unemployment. I only hope he’s wrong.

Brothers and Sisters, Ron Hasleden – Ron’s a really nice guy and I’m sure the kids who had their drawings transposed into large light works enjoyed this piece, it was just a little far for me to venture.

Wonderwood, Walter Holt – another charming man. I think this piece would have been stunning and a great escape from the bustle of the crowds but alas there just wasn’t enough time!

So overall…the art was excellent and I really hope it returns…but lets have it back for longer with better crowd control that actually works with the people of Durham. This isn’t the south, we do sensible words and a pint here not kettling.

2 thoughts on “Durham Lumiere Festival 2011

  1. I have to say that that was quite a succinct run-down of the Durham lumiere festival! Having been a student there for 3 years just thought i’d say that whilst i was there, it rarely did much for Durham’s economy and tourism.

    Indeed, in my last year at Durham they had rather a bizarre and strangely placed ‘big star’ light near, or on the castle if my memory serves me correctly. Looked rather out of place and a LITTLE haphazard for my taste.

    It’s a nice enterprise but Durham’s always looked for ways to surpass other cities in Europe- this, I feel I must hasten to add, may not be the solution.. Sterling effort though…

  2. It has been some time since I visited website with such high quality information. Thank you so much for providing such helpful information. This is really informative and I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

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