Dazzling Durham

November 17, 2015

Phantasmal fog, floating net sculptures, a colossal whale and the story of the birth of the Universe will be on show at this year’s Lumiere Durham, which takes place November 12-15. Artichoke is the creative company tasked with putting on the large-scale urban light festival. Its director, Helen Marriage, talks to North East Times

Tell me about Lumiere Durham 2015 and how it builds on previous years …

It’s just as complicated and ambitious in terms of the scale. This year, the programme is pretty extraordinary and a lot of projects involve the local community. We are also using spaces that we haven’t used before, such as down on the riverside. This is so that everyone isn’t trying to get into the centre of Durham city at the same time.

What are you most looking forward to seeing?

Lumiere Durham is about a whole family of pieces that come together so it’s hard to choose between them. It would be like choosing between your own children!

What do you want people to take away from an Artichoke event?

Unlike most arts organisations, Artichoke works in outdoor places and is interested in attracting the broadest possible audience. Our aim is to use artists to transform a very familiar environment or landscape. For Lumiere Durham, we transform the city centre in the hope that the people who experience it are themselves transformed and they leave feeling different about the place.

What are the main challenges of putting on a large-scale outdoor event?

The main challenge in Durham is how popular it has become. The city centre is very small and was essentially built to keep people out, whereas we’re inviting people into the city in large numbers. The challenge for us is always to create a programmer and then work with the local authority and the blue light services to ensure a safe environment for the public.

How long does it take to put on an event such as Lumiere Durham?

We are already planning Lumiere Durham 2017! We’re putting ideas together and then a few months after the 2015 event ends, we’ll start making arrangements. A lot of work goes into every Lumiere Durham. For instance, this year we’re doing a piece with students from Durham Sixth Form Centre who have been working with artists from New Zealand, over Skype. The artists have been steering the students in a certain direction, the results of which will come together at the festival. But months and months of work will have gone into making it happen.

Do you have a favourite Artichoke event?

The one we are most known for is one of our first events because it was such an incredible thing for a tiny company to do. It was called The Sultan’s Elephant [a giant mechanical elephant and girl, created by French theatrical magicians Royal de Luxe, in 2006]. The BBC said that a million people turned up in central London to see it. To have that kind of audience for your first event is pretty amazing.

Is there always a pressure to do something bigger and better each time?

Normally our work is at one-off events so the audience isn’t judging us on previous years. Durham is the only place that we return to and where that pressure comes from the public. There’s an internal pressure within Artichoke, too. We want to do things that are unique and that other people wouldn’t choose to do. We’re always wanting to achieve a level of amazement.

2015 is the fourth Lumiere Durham and takes place during the UNESCO International Year of Light.






1.26 will float about the River Wear with visitors able to manipulate its pattern and colours with a specially designed app. Image © Janet Echelman/Studio Echelman

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10 Questions: Gillian Marshall