I am lucky enough to have experienced Lumiere twice whilst studying at Durham. Having chosen to do a year abroad, it meant both my second and fourth year have been greeted with the magic of this light festival. Two years ago, a much younger version of myself had no idea what to expect from the bi-annual light show. I had heard incredible things, but lighting up all of Durham? Really?
Any expectations I had were exceeded in 2021, and I feel the same about this year’s Lumiere. Not only are the visuals a modern, beautiful form of art, but the entire event of attending this festival is what makes Lumiere so special.
Wrap up warm
The sun goes down, and you and your friends bundle up in coats, scarves, and hats before bracing the cold November air. Walking past stands selling light-up wands, mulled wine, or hot snacks, it’s a little impossible to not feel a warmth in your chest. Durham is never as busy as Lumiere, and when I was approaching market square amongst other students, families, and tourists, I couldn’t help but feel proud of this city I study in.
The magic starts
With a shining community surrounding you, the magic really starts when the lights come into view. In market square, you were greeted with some glowing animals. With 2D figures scaling the walls, and a 3D tiger taking the show in the centre, these beautiful pieces bring colour and fantasy to the centre of the old town.
Heading to the Cathedral
After this, it was time for the cathedral. No matter the time of year, this monument always takes my breath away – I will never get used to the scale and detail of something so old! I can’t believe a singular building can give me the same nostalgia I had when I first moved to Durham aged 18, when I was filled with curiosity of the years ahead. Combining what is already such a masterpiece with Lumiere’s vision means that each time the festival rolls around, you are unlikely to be disappointed.
I’ve made friends for life
This year, the Cathedral’s exterior was painted by Javier Riera’s lights of optical illusion. Walking up towards the church, you became immersed in the different white stripes that moved fluidly to emphasise the space that surrounded you. Taking a quick glance at my friends next to me, I could see they were equally as amazed by what had been done this year. I don’t know what it was – maybe the quiet that had come over us whilst taking in the art, or the awe in which we were staring at the lights around us, but in this moment I felt an overwhelming love for the people around me. I could not believe I didn’t grow up with them, and after all of us had been away for a year, I felt a deep gratitude that we had all returned to Durham just as close.
Inside the cathedral was just as special. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s immersive installation Pulse Topology contained thousands of light bulbs strung at different levels, which when activated by your heartbeat, create a connective display of shimmering lights. Once you had recorded your heartbeat, it remained in a bulb forever. When I discovered this, I honestly felt like Lumiere was trying to make me emotional on purpose. The idea of connecting with thousands who visit this cathedral, in a city so close to my heart, was enough to set me off.
Reflecting on my time in Durham
After we braced the cold once more, we headed down to Riverwalk, where you could see the castle lit up in bright colours. On the river lit the glowing word ‘REFLECT’, upside down so it reflected on the water. We stood here for a little while, taking pictures and being tempted by a few of the restaurants which had set up food stalls. We spoke to a few visitors of the city too, who were just as impressed as we were with the 2023 festival. It seemed like there wasn’t anything but joy in Durham that night.
More than an art show
Lumiere is an art show, but it is also so much more. It’s something to be excited about, something to bond over with friends and reminisce on in years to come. Durham is proud of the festival, and it should be. For such a small place to attract such large crowds is worthy of praise, and when you are in these crowds admiring the scenes around you, you cannot help but feel joy that you live in this beautiful city.