Interview and Text by 撰文 X Sophie Guo 郭笑菲
IMAGES COURTESY OF 圖片提供 X ARTICHOKE TRUST
In a hope to revitalise the cities in the midst of the darkness of winter, Artichoke Trust made an epic return to Durham with its four-day light festival Lumiere in November, followed by another turn in central London two months after. Dotted around 30 different locations yet highly accessible by walk between the spots, the site-specific light projects in London attracted an estimated one million visitors. There were fluorescent giant whales swimming above Piccadilly, phone boxes in Mayfair transforming into goldfish bowls and light graffiti ‘paint’ spraying around at King’s Cross. These eccentric light installations were the elements that transformed the city landscape into a real-life dream space.
Building the live experience is central to what Helen Marriage, the Founder of the Artichoke, thinks about when she plans the project. Lumiere suggests an alternative way for people to sense the city, through a different interpersonal relationship as opposed to the virtual kind that is highly common in the contemporary digital age. The festival attracted thousands of people who left their routine journeys, plotting out adventures into the once familiar, now strange, city. This is what Marriage had to say about the challenges that she faced in her curatorial process and the extraordinary change that the festival brought to the city and to its residents.
洋薊製作公司創始人兼燈光節策劃人海倫·麥里奇(Helen Marriage)認為“如何創造現場體驗”是燈光節所要考慮的核心問題。燈光節將人們吸引到了街上，讓他們在實實在在的共處中體驗這個城市。這種真實的相處方式正好與在數碼時代的當下人們之間習慣養成的虛擬關係相悖 。燈光節誘使了成百上千的群眾放棄他們慣常的行走路線，在曾經熟悉而如今陌生的城市間展開探險。我們來看看麥里奇在她的策劃過程中都遇到了哪些挑戰，燈光節最終又為城市與居民的日常生活體驗帶來了怎樣的巨大變化。
ART.ZIP: We were so impressed by the Lumiere. According to reports from the government and the Guardian, the festival transformed the city. Was this public art programme a collaboration with the government in the first place?
HM: Sort of but not quite like that. The Mayor of London office commissioned us to do a study of whether Lumiere in London could work in the same way as it was in North England, where we go every two years in Durham. We wrote a study for them, and also for several business districts that have the interest in animating West-end districts in the dead month of January when it is quiet, end of Christmas, and everybody is feeling sad. They sponsored a lot of money and everybody was very excited about that possibility. However, it turned out that they gave us 20% of the budget and then we raised the rest of the money from the business districts or from landowners from the central area. For these organisations, having a big animated event is very important in terms of attracting people into the city and presenting London as a vibrant world.
ART.ZIP: In order for the light to adapt perfectly to the architecture and urban space, what did you need to take into consideration when you curated it? Is there any subtle digital programming set in beforehand?
HM: Depends on the piece. When I curated the programme, I tried to choose the place that the artists felt suit their work best, but it also has to work in terms of particular buildings that we animate for the sponsor, for the government, or even to help with the crowd management. When you have so many people in the streets, you have to be careful not to create a bottleneck or a jam. If you put something very small at the little corner, so many people try to get to see it and this will cause problem.
The curation of Lumiere is about the following aspects:
- Quality of the artwork and how it reveals a new side to the urban architecture and the experience.
- Crowd management and the logistics of making the event work.
- Serving the purposes of the sponsor or the stakeholder who has asked us to work with that particular buildings.
When you do a programme in the public it is multi-layered in terms of what you are thinking about; you’re always trying to flex what you’re talking to make it serve all these different purposes. What is most important, is the audience’s experience—none of these three people, government or sponsors or department of transport, was really concerned what it feel like to be an audience member in front of these works. One of the most important aspects of our job is to try and predict what the emotional reaction of the audience will have.
ART.ZIP: The psychological affect that the Lumiere had on the audience is very interesting as it made the people so happy and calm in this busy urban environment. Did you study the psychological effect of the geographical environment to the emotion and behaviour of individuals before organising this event?
HM: I don’t study anything particularly-it is just an instinct. I’ve been doing it for really long time and I can feel that if I have one skill, it’s being able to feel what it will be like. I can imagine. It is really hard for the people who participate— the public, authority, London Underground, London buses, metropolitan district council, etc., because they don’t have the advantage of being able to imagine. They just feel that it is a technical problem: how do we keep the tube running when so many people want to come, how do we interrupt the buses. Whereas I am thinking about something that is more adaptive for a transformation, but I have to deal with all of these particular technical problems.
The interesting part is imagining the city behaving differently. So when you’re doing a huge event, in your heart you know that 2000 people will come, I say we have to close the road, the bus planner says this is really inconvenient because of the buses. What I am trying to explain is that you are only closing the road to accommodate the huge numbers of people who want to come, and they won’t mind if they can’t get the bus, because they would rather be standing in the road and walking ten minutes to a different bus stop. Imagining they sit on the pavement, so you have to actually make adaptive changes in your head about what the city is for— how it should work for. Because the will of the people is that makes the city behave differently.
I am second guessing how the public will behave and trying to persuade people, whose job is to stick to routine and who were very used to complain all the time, that if the bus doesn’t run it’s ok. So that is really complicated conversation, but you’re right to be focusing on quality of the emotional transformation, because that’s what it takes even in the planning, not just for the audience, but those people I work with and those public authorities. They have to understand the city and should be able to feel differently. And that’s hard for them because their job is to make the city feel same.
ART.ZIP: Indeed, a great aspect about Lumiere is that it brought people away from their regular route in order to engage with the city more physically in a more imaginative way.
HM: Yes, and more intimately in a way by discovering routes between places. If you travel by underground you don’t necessarily realise that the walk from Grosvenor Square to Regent’s Street takes literally 10 minutes and by taking that you realise the shops and architectures that you’ve never encountered. Part of the plan is to get people to move differently. Many of my team walked to the West end to King’s Cross took 25-30 minutes; that’s not the journey that anybody would normally take. They get to the underground because it is quick, but actually in certain circumstances they can’t. I suppose one of the aims of Lumiere was to encourage people to regard walking as a form of transport. They don’t actually need the bus or the tube, the walking route and that experience was as important as whether the tube is running on time.
ART.ZIP: Walking is the cleanest form of transportation. Did you also consider the environmental issue, with the intention of invoking environmental consciousness in the individuals when you planned this project?
HM: It is very easy to criticise this kind of festival as waste of energy, but actually what we were trying now is to get the ordinary lighting switch off, so there is a balance for what we were adding. Some of the pieces pointed to ecological or environmental questions like the fountains at the Trafalgar Square roundabout, where I thought was beautiful but also made a very interesting point (Plastic Islands by Luzinterruptus). The piece up at King’s Cross is a campaign about providing sustainable lighting for people with no access to power. Through the programme you can educate and inform people, and change their view of light and its significance.
HM: 其實很有可能會有人批評我們這樣的藝術節是在浪費能源，但事實上我們現在就是嘗試熄滅日常用燈以平衡我們添加的裝置所需的能耗。一些作品的確指向了環境與生態問題，比方說特拉法加廣場交叉路口的噴泉作品《Plastic Islands（塑料島）》，它們不但好看還很好地強調了這個問題。國王十字那邊的作品也呼籲了為無法用電的地區居民提供可持續光源。通過這個項目你可以告知民眾並改變他們對燈光及對光的意義的看法。
ART.ZIP: In terms of the physical encountering with the city and interpersonal relations, inside the festival, people were getting together.
HM: Yes, people lying in the middle of the road in Oxford Circus and it was the most amazing scene. They were so beautiful and that was the huge argument with the transport plan— you won’t close up services to important junctions for traffic; the buses have to be able to run east west. And eventually on Friday when I stepped out of the tube, I walked into the road and all these people were just lying on the road. I was almost in tears: that was the right decision then, good that we closed it. That experience was actually a unique one to people.
ART.ZIP: Yes, and you expressed before that in the age of digital technology, people were always doing online surfing, losing interpersonal and physical interaction. How would you comment on this now?
HM: I am a very analogue person; I am very old. There is new technology that I find it useful, but there is no passion. I don’t feel the newest pieces and I don’t do Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, although the office for the company does it. I can see how fascinating it is for the young people who have grown up with it, but for me, the real pleasure is about discovering that something is real. You have to put it as live experience, you have to be there rather than being mediated to you through big screen or television. I think in this world where we spend so much time behind the screen, receiving information, we feel that we have thousands of friends but actually never seeing them, or we don’t share space with other people because we are sitting in our bedroom never stopping working. For me, Artichoke serves as an alternative reality, in which for these brief moments the world has changed. You are invited and you can share the space with thousands of other people that you don’t know, who are not your friends, who are not on your Facebook list, but connections between you will be nonstop. It is actually about making real connection.
Find Out More:
This article and interview refer to the Lumiere festivals which took place in Durham in 2015 and London in 2016.
Lumiere will return to Durham for the fifth time, commissioned by Durham County Council, 16-19 November 2017.
The second Lumiere London commissioned by the Mayor of London, will take place from 18-21 January 2018.