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Durham city transformed into a giant art gallery

Published November 20, 2023 1.39pm

The 2023 edition of the UK's light biennial Lumiere closed in Durham on Sunday night, having welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to the event over four incredible nights.

Lumiere 2023 market place

 An estimated 160,000 visitors flocked to Lumiere

120,000 free early evening tickets had been snapped up when released last month. Produced by creative company Artichoke, and commissioned and funded by our council with additional support from Arts Council England, Durham University, and a raft of further sponsors and funders, the free event was one of the largest to take place in the UK over the weekend. 

40 artworks by artists from 15 countries

Highlights included Javier Riera's mind-bending Liquid Geometry, a 270-degree immersive abstract artwork projected onto Durham Cathedral and adjacent buildings. Inside the cathedral, 4,500 fluttering light bulbs arranged overhead in an undulating canopy, which visualised the pulsating heartbeats of the audiences beneath. Adam Frelin's sequentially-illuminated arches for Inner Cloister recalled the footsteps of monks of old while Ai Weiwei's four-metre high Illuminated Bottle Rack decorated with 61 antique and vintage chandeliers glittered in the cathedral's atmospheric Chapter House.

On Blank Pages by Luzinterruptus was a huge success. The interactive artwork of thousands of illuminated notebooks invited visitors to share their thoughts about justice. Each night during the event, thousands added to the existing 15,000 pages featuring contributions from people involved in the justice system, from police and prisoners, to court officials and lawyers, refugees, young offenders and victims of crime. Contributions will be scanned and added to the online archive - read people's diverse responses on the On Blank Pages online archive.

As part of a biennial spotlight on particular areas of County Durham, this year's Lumiere also included four installations in Bishop Auckland. Spanish artist, Daniel Canogar's  Amalgama Spanish Gallery drew on the collection held in the Spanish Gallery to create a beautiful projection that melted across the exterior of the building. On the other side of Market Square, Phil Supple's The Drop animated Auckland Tower with light, choreographed to a lively musical score composed by collaborator and sound artist Toby Park.

The number of local people taking part in Lumiere increased significantly this year, with 1,800 local residents and schoolchildren taking part in 65 workshops and online artwork submissions across five artworks including On Blank Pages (Luzinterruptus), Watchtower (Ron Haselden) and Colour the Castle (Mr.Beam). 

In line with Artichoke's focus on making this year's Lumiere the most sustainable yet, two community projects focused on ideas around recycling and solar energy: Diamond Garden by Mick Stephenson and Flowers and Chandeliers, which transformed 1,600 plastic bottles into colourful lighted festoons in Prince Bishops and Bishop Auckland, inspired by ideas and designs by Durham Sixth Form College and New College Durham students. 

An extraordinary exhibition

Artistic Director of Artichoke, Helen Marriage said: "Each edition of Lumiere is an opportunity to create an outdoor art gallery on a grand scale and for me, this year's was the most exciting and impactful yet. The idea is to explore familiar places through the eyes of the artists, and to take our audiences with us on this journey. Lumiere is now established as the UK's light art biennial, and as well as the tens of thousands of visitors who came to Durham and Bishop Auckland to experience this extraordinary exhibition, festival directors and art professionals from across the world gathered as part of our professional programme. 

"To put on this scale of event is not possible without the huge effort from our hundreds of local participants and volunteers to the artists, technicians, riggers, projectionists, security and crew, all of whom have pledged to support our sustainable Lumiere commitments. 

"It is a huge endeavour and I'm particularly proud of how much we're achieved in making Lumiere more accessible - not an easy feat in a dark medieval city with steep cobbled streets filled with tens of thousands of visitors. For the first time we were able to run three separate accessible tours which allowed people to enjoy elements of Lumiere in quieter moments.

"A huge thanks once again to Durham County Council who commission and fund Lumiere and have done so much to support us in its delivery this year, and also to Arts Council England to Durham University and to all our wonderful partners and funders, as well as to The Auckland Project and Stronger Towns Fund for enabling Lumiere's spotlight on Bishop Auckland".

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, leader of our council, said: "You only need to see the expressions on people's faces to know how much they've enjoyed this year's Lumiere.
"It's an event that always brings so much fun, wonder and joy into people's lives and somehow it manages to get better and better each time.
"It's attracted tens of thousands of people into Durham City and Bishop Auckland over four November nights, generating a massive boost for the local economy while shining a global spotlight on our county.
"Events like Lumiere are key to cementing our position as the culture county, which is all about reaping the huge benefits that cultural activities bring to our economy and our communities."

Fantastic feedback

Examples of feedback from visitors included:

"It was our first time visiting Lumiere and we absolutely loved it. So easy and quick to get in and out of the city using the park and ride. We bought a programme and found it easy to navigate around the installations using the map. Best Friday night I've had out in a long time! We'll be back." - Facebook event user

"I went to see it Thursday night and thought it was fantastic, especially the projections onto the Spanish Art Gallery." - X (formerly Twitter) user
"Tens of thousands of people of all ages brought together to gaze up at new light installations across a cityscape and wider region. This is the power of culture." - X (formerly Twitter) user

"Great night at Durham's fabulous @lumieredurham festival. The installations were fab, but the most lovely thing about it was how many local people were there to experience it. Our region is bursting with culture and talent. Let's shout it from the rooftops" - X (formerly Twitter) user

In summary

  • An estimated 160,000 visitors flocked to Lumiere, the UK's light art biennial, in Durham this weekend.
  • 40 artworks by artists from 15 countries, 18 new commissions, 7 UK debuts, including Ai Weiwei, Chila Burman and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
  • Community involvement from 316 volunteers, 1800 local residents and schoolchildren across five projects.
  • Professional programme included 50 festival directors and art professionals from around the world.