Those of you who know me know I take Lumiere London seriously. Very seriously. The free light festival began last night, bigger than previously, now stretching south of the river. It covers six different zones this year; Fitzrovia, Mayfair, West End, Victoria, South Bank and King's Cross. My 9.3 mile wander through central London's streets took me 4.5 hours, and never has a McDonald's tasted as good as the one I had at Waterloo station at the end.
Happily, it was nowhere near as crowded as opening night last time round -- the main pressure points, predictably, were Leicester Square and Oxford Circus. The staff were also a lot friendlier, more helpful and less aggressive than Lumiere London 2016, which made for a nicer atmosphere all round.
Here are a few of my favourite bits from each area:
I eased myself in gently - Fitzrovia only had four installations. None of them particularly stand out, although a friend tells me that later in the evening, a giant ping pong game was being projected onto the Imagination Building for A-Bit Immersive, and people were having a lot of fun with the interactive cube Control No Control in Whitfield Gardens.
Illumaphonium is an interactive giant xylophone-type structure crying out to be played (one to visit if you're taking kiddies along), and Impulse, a series of light-up, motion-activated seesaws on South Molton Street, is a lot of fun too.
Was That A Dream? asks the title of the installation in Berkeley Square, apt for the blink-and-you'll-miss-it wire bird perched in the trees. It's pretty, but don't bother risking your life in the traffic to get into the square itself - you get just as good view from the perimeter pavements.
On opening night, Oxford Circus was underwhelming, as that giant, breakway ball was absent due to high winds. The projections onto the surrounding buildings are still pretty, but underwhelming compared to Oxford Circus's 2016 offering.
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to track down Harmonic Portal, which should be in or near St James's Church somewhere, or Flamingo Flyway, which should be in Chinatown. It'll come as a surprise to no-one that Tracey Emin's offering is underwhelming, and seeing it in real life offers no benefit over taking a quick glance at photos of it in the publicity bumph.
The Aquarium and stick men are back from 2016, but if you want to see something new, I'd recommend Supercube in St James's Market. The cube made from glass jars elicits much excitement when the gathered crowds realise that one of the jars is a camera, and mini versions of themselves are being projected into the jars.
Do take time to visit Leicester Square though - it's much the same as last time, and one of the busiest points, but has taken on more of a wildlife theme, with fox, badger and rabbit lanterns positioned round the statue of Shakey Will.
Westminster and Victoria
If you don't spot the art on St-Martin-In-The-Fields from afar, you're unlikely to spot it from close-up. The very top of the spire has been adorned with a neon pink ladder, which can be seen from Seven Dials, South Bank and Waterloo. Across the road, Trafalgar Square is home to one of my favourite installations of the whole festival, a flock of dancing white balloons, swaying around the fountains.
The other three installations in this section are out on a limb, but this is a limb well worth going out on. Westminster Abbey's frontage has a similar colourful projection as two years ago. Further into Victoria, a 20 storey+ building, currently under construction wrap, has projections of huge figures of people climbing it. Perhaps I was hungry and a little light-headed by this point, but the sheer scale of it made me feel a little dizzy.
Just a bit further up the road at Westminster Cathedral is another of my favourites of the whole festival. In the square outside the Cathedral, a giant light-up bullseye type installation made of plastic bottles is powered by members of the public cycling on static bicycles - the more power being generated, the more rings light up.
This area is new to Lumiere London for 2018, and is a bit underwhelming. On the advice of a colleague, I made time to visit The Wave, a tunnel best described as a light-up giant Toblerone. Of course, so many people want photos with it, it's hard to actually get a decent shot, but it's impressive to look at nonetheless. I wouldn't bother with anything else in this area unless you're really killing time.
A few tips for Lumiere London 2018
- The artworks have temporarily appeared on Google Maps, which is handy for finding your way around. But, bear in mind that some of the pin locations aren't as accurate as they should be, and the map doesn't show you what the artwork should look like, which is why it's a good idea to...
- Get yourself a Lumiere map. Apparently there's a free one of the Visit London app, but if you're like me and prefer to get inside a good old paper map, you can download and print one here for a donation. The download also includes photos of each installation so you know what you're looking for at each point, and if you're strapped for time, you know which ones you're not fussed about seeing.
- Some of the installations marked on the map are permanent, rather than special Lumiere attractions - save time by avoiding these. Shaida Walking and The Plug and Bulbs are permanent in the Carnaby area, the Thames Pulse at the Mondrian on South Bank is always there, and I have it on good authority that Bough 1 at Oxo Tower is also permanent. They're also counting the London Eye as part of Lumiere, which is a bit cheeky.