While my fellow blogger Marina has been compiling her top tips for navigating the UK’s biggest lights festival (now in its tenth year), I’ve taken up the challenge of recollecting the last time Lumiere took over Durham. One of the reasons I call it a ‘challenge’ is that when the festival last took place, I was only a month into my first year at Durham (which makes me feel super old looking back on it now) and while I could just about navigate between my college, lectures, and the library, many locations that the festival covered were new territory. I’d be able to name these places now, but to me, at the time it would just be ‘that bridge’ – and Durham has a lot of bridges, which makes that memory pretty unhelpful.
Despite the problems this presents for me now, it was one of the best parts about exploring Lumiere for the first time – the cosy city that I thought I knew was transformed into a treasure map of lights and colours, and as clichéd as it sounds, I wasn’t just discovering the installations, but Durham itself. I distinctly remember only finding out about an exhibition in the Botanic Garden on the last night of Lumiere, but it was ‘too far out’ for anyone else to want to come with me (i.e. a 20 minute walk from town), so I decided to go alone. As much as I’d loved going around most of the festival with my friends, it felt empowering and almost magical to discover this new pocket of Durham by myself. The exhibition – entitled ‘For the Birds’ (which will be back this year) – was a series of immersive, sensory installations around the gardens that were both beautiful and haunting, and I remember wandering back to town afterwards in a sort of trance.
I definitely didn’t feel that way about every display I saw, but the variety was part of the fun. I remember some of my friends dragging me across town to look at the ‘creepy moon face’ that was projected onto the Castle, and I can confirm that ‘Our Moon’ (as it was called), which seemed to follow you with its eyes, was comically disturbing. I did think that an incredible job had been done with the Cathedral – even queuing to get inside was made less tedious by the external illumination of the building, which was cleverly timed with the resounding chimes of the bells. Possibly my favourite installation was tucked away in St Oswald’s Church, where thousands of glass pieces were hung from the ceiling, throwing shards of pastel-coloured light across the interior.
I won’t deny that living a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and Castle made it hard to escape Lumiere; I could hear the stewards repeatedly shouting “Keep to the right!” directly outside my window, and getting to Castle for dinner meant wading through crowds as soon as I stepped out of my accommodation. However, the college did provide each of us with a sacred Gold Pass, which was handy in allowing us to get through certain areas restricted to the public, and made me feel very smug when I got the opportunity to use it. Knowing that people had travelled all kinds of distances for Lumiere made me feel proud to live in Durham, and while there were times that it was overwhelming, I also realised for the first time that I was starting to see the city as my home.
One blog post just isn’t enough to do the whole festival justice, but hopefully, I’ve given you the impression that there were astounding visions of creativity almost everywhere I turned. Recalling this experience has definitely added to my excitement about what this year’s Lumiere will bring – I think it’s set to be the biggest and best yet, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming content about Lumiere 2019!
Find out all you need to know about Lumiere here.