LIGHT FESTIVALS BRING OUR CITIES TO LIFE
As the nights begin to draw in, cities start lighting up. Throughout Europe and the world, the winter months herald a myriad of open-air art festivals, stimulating our emotions and attracting many: they are light festivals. Light festivals were first introduced in the early Nineties and were a totally new concept as they brought cityscapes to life and gave urban areas a new sense of vitality at nightfall. They were organised by the cities themselves or local associations and their aim was to celebrate their architectural heritage, encouraging the rediscovery of historical and contemporary buildings, squares, parks and bridges. They proposed a new way of looking at the city using light. And the atmosphere they created was totally different and quite magical.
With the advent of the new millennium, festival organisers began to connect, exchanging knowledge and sharing their expertise to promote the artistic importance of the individual events. This led to the creation of pioneering networks which inspired and experimented, like the International Light Festival Organisation. Since its foundation, the ILO has become a platform for light artists, partners and organisers from all over the world and its aim is to develop the cultural heritage of the festivals and their emotional and aesthetic value.
Light festivals are important career-making events for artists who have chosen light as their expressive medium. But they are a great attraction for others too, luring thousands of citizens and visitors to the cities, as well as a rising number of designers, investors and organisations looking for alternatives using energy. The results are diverse, from projections to video mapping and installations using pure light in a unique and innovative way, often exploiting the potential offered by the location. Light is a versatile “material” which can be used both abstractly and figuratively. In the Seventies, when this art was still in the early stages, experimentation was aimed purely at the senses and the artwork consisted mainly of projections and installations made out of neon tubes. The light art movement, pioneered by Californian artists like Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Dan Flavin, was strictly limited to museums. For today’s artists, however, the city is a blank canvas, the perfect stage for an expressive and engaging art form that gets more and more interactive by the years.
The best-known light festivals, Glow in Eindhoven and the Amsterdam Light Festival (the Netherlands), Lux in Helsinki (Finland), Lights in Alingsås (Sweden), Lumina in Cascais (Portugal) and Fête des Lumières in Lyon (France), are testimony to how this new form of expression, albeit still in its youth and evolving, is able to give urban spaces a new lease of life, flooding the cities with light. Every festival is different, some are linked to ancient local traditions, while others to more recent contaminations between light art and technology, innovation and eco-sustainability. The French festival held in Lyon, for instance, was the natural evolution of a tradition the residents of the city had of placing candles in their windows on the night of 8 December. When the city’s lighting system was developed, starting in 1989, it had such an artistic, technical and political impact that light became an integral part of the Lyon cityscape and the identity of its inhabitants. The Festival of Lights, held for the first time in 1999, is a four-day event involving students, designers, architects and artists with its many projects and competitions. It also focuses attention on the wider issue of energy associated with light, from the perspective of environmental sustainability and lending support to countries where energy resources are a scarce commodity. Education, on the other hand, is the impetus behind the most important light festival in Sweden. The first Lights in Alingsås were lit by students of two universities who wanted to experiment with different lighting designs for public buildings. The result is an educational and fun lighting event which has grown annually and still kicks off with a professional workshop. The most surprising European event is the Portuguese light festival, where national and international artists use light to create works of art about nature. One of the youngest festivals on the global scene, Lumina can call on an exceptional team of experts, as it is produced by the town of Cascais in conjunction with Ocubo, one of the leading video mapping and interactive projection studios in the world. Two days of spectacular lights and colours let you “touch people with art and move things in the right direction” – says Carole Purnelle – founder of Lumina and one of the partners of Ocubo. Light festivals demonstrate the potential of light as an art form, they are enchanting and magical and nowadays, thanks to technology, can transit new messages and create connections. Wherever they are in the world, they are pure emotion – guaranteed.
Cover. Blob the bulb – Glow Eindhoven
1. Glow – Eindhoven
2. Chrystal Cloud -Fête des Lumières 2016
3. Lumina – Bang Bike
4. Elephant Rouge – Fête des Lumières 2016
5. Lights in Alingsås
6. Lumina – Archive 1.0
7. Lumina – Forever Young