Lumiere Festival: London

Lumiere Festival brightened up the dark wintry nights in London over a four day outdoor event from 14th – 17th January. The project was launched in Durham in 2009 and this was the first time it took place in the capital; across various locations from Oxford Circus, to Piccadilly Circus, St. James, Trafalgar Square and Kings Cross. The crowds outside Oxford Circus tube during the rush hour commute were visibly stunned by Janet Echelman’s huge net sculpture suspended between buildings above the station. Echelman’s work is inspired by fishing nets seen on a trip to India, and this piece was more specifically based on the 2011 Tsunami and data from NASA which created a 3D image, informing the shape of this beautiful floating sculpture. A few steps down Regents Street saw mesmerising LED fish creations from the Fetes des Lumieres Lyon which floated, danced and swooped through the sky whilst constantly changing colour. Further towards Piccadilly the unexpected sound of a wild animals’ trumpet amidst jungle noises could be heard, as an animated elephant emerged between the archways of Regent Street shops stomping through a cloud of dust! Through Piccadilly and into Leicester Square, French collective TILT installed various plant structures (flowers, tress, Japanese lantern inspired plants amongst myriad other creations) made from recycled materials, illuminating the square with a magical quality. A hundred metres further, Trafalgar Square showcased the original Centrepoint lights on the steps leading up to the National Gallery highlighting how each installation was designed to respond to the architecture it was placed within. Finally a pack of glass and neon dogs – not dissimilar to balloon dogs at children’s parties – graze near Trafalgar Square with their leads, bones and other paraphernalia associated with dog walking. Here’s hoping the festival returns to the city to enliven many a Londoners journey home!

Oxford Circus
Oxford Circus
Regents Street
Regents Street
Elephant
Piccadilly
Leicester Sq
Leicester Square

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Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2015: National Portrait Gallery

This years’ annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize elicited 4,292 submissions from 2,201 photographers and provided a refreshing mix of famous faces (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Obamas and Peter Capaldi) as well as informal portraits of photographers’ friends and families, and spur of the moment images captured by street photographers across a wide range of global locations. I didn’t personally agree with the 2015 winners and found David Stewarts’ ‘Five Girls’ first prize portrait of his teenage daughter and four friends sitting at a table unduly posed, unnatural and a little stiff. Similarly, the runner up prize ‘Hector’ – a portrait of a naked baby inspired by Caravaggio’s 17th century ‘Sleeping Cupid’ by Anoush Abrar, simply left me cold. The exhibition did nonetheless include some wonderful portraits, and a personal favourite was an inkjet print of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kasuma by Noriko Takasugi which much like its subject was full of character and bursting with colour. Similarly ‘Happy Pupil’ by Mark Chivers captured a genuine and heart-warming moment when a Ugandan boy called Owen smiled infectiously across his classroom (as his education is funded through the charity Lessons for Life). At the other end of the spectrum, hard hitting issues were addressed by Lithuanian photographer Viktorija Vaisvilate Skirutiene in a portrait of her four year old neighbour naked in the window holding up his toy gun, shot in solemn black and white, producing a powerfully disturbing image. Closer to home ‘Constable Robling and Fintab’ a portrait of Britain’s first female UK policewomen to become a dog handler by Adrian Peacock captured an aggressive Fintab (the Alsatian) with gnarled teeth and visible tension on his lead, all humorously explained by the dogs’ hostility towards photographers! As always, I left feeling excited about next years’ prize and what 2016 will have to offer.

‘Hector’ by Anoush Abrar
Taylor_Wessing exhibition smith
Japanese artist Yayoi Kasuma by Noriko Takasugi
mark-chivers-happy-pupil-of-budaka-large
‘Happy Pupil’ by Mark Chivers

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The Historical Experience: Benjamin Franklin House

A narrow Georgian townhouse at the back of Charing Cross train station has been standing since 1730, provided lodgings for Benjamin Franklin (face on the $100 bill, Founding Father of the United States, scientist, diplomat, inventor of unusual musical instruments and more!) for sixteen years between 1757 and 1775, and has been a museum since 2006. To enter, visitors ring the doorbell much like you are paying a visit to someone’s home, are led along a corridor of original wooden floorboards and panelling, and down the stairs to the basement where the ‘Historical Experience’ begins… a small orientation room comprising information boards, an artefact display cabinet, and even human remains from the anatomy school which also operated from the building help introduce you to the House. After a short video, Polly (the landlady’s daughter and close friend of Franklin whilst he was lodging at the House) leads visitors to the Kitchen where flagstone flooring, a Victorian cooking stove, and views of the sunken basements are cleverly integrated with projections and voices that Polly continues to interact with throughout the House to help tell its’ stories. Visitors are then led upstairs to the Landlady’s Parlour, Card Room and finally Franklin’s Parlour – all complete with authentic features from the floorboards, to the shutters on the windows, marble fireplaces, and even the green paint on the walls specially mixed to match flecks of the original paint revealed through spectro-analysis. Typically I find costumed interpretation horribly uncomfortable, however it is immediately obvious that this House employs a professional actress and provides a theatrical ‘experience’ executed to a high standard. Likewise, the fact that it is largely unfurnished lends itself to this type of visitor offering, and it was refreshing to focus on the original features rather than trying to navigate your way through a cluttered house full of replica furnishings.

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