London dazzles with first festival of light

15th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

London's iconic Westminster Abbey was lit up like multi-coloured confectionary and a giant flame loomed over the capital's premier shopping drag Thursday, part of the city's first festival of light.

Crowds flocked to dazzling sculptures puncturing the cold winter night, including ghostly fish swooping through the air in Piccadilly and an enormous animated elephant near Regent Street's upmarket shops.

"It's contemporary culture which engages the emotions rather than the cerebral, that is designed for a mass audience to share public space," said Helen Marriage of Artichoke, a charity that works with artists to create large-scale, popular events.

Organisers of "Lumiere London", a venture backed by Mayor Boris Johnson, say it is the biggest light festival to hit the capital, and its 30 works are distributed among some of the city's most famous landmarks.

The spectacle has its origins in Durham, in England's northeast, where it has been held every two years since 2009.

"I like it, it's quite impressive, it's a well-made work", Tuwung, 24, student, from South Korea, looking at an image of an elephant lumbering through a cloud of dust.

- 'I love it' -

The installation is titled "Elephantastic" and aims to juxtapose an animal of the plains with an urban landscape, said the art agency behind the work, Topla.

A little further up Regent Street, fluorescent tubes came to life as dancing stick men performing stunts on the thoroughfare's ornate facade.

"It's great, I love it," smiled David Anica, 24, before pointing his finger at a net lit up to look like a giant flame over nearby Oxford Circus: "It changes colour, it's beautiful."

At Leicester Square, whose many cinemas often host world premieres, French art collective TILT invited spectators to walk around a garden of illuminated plant sculptures, including reeds and a giant peony.

The festival is a boon for London tourism, adding to its cultural draw, and shops and restaurants near the installations stayed open later to cash in.

"We're very proud of our cultural life. Culture is to London what the sun is to Spain. It's a major driver for our tourism," said Munira Mirza, the London mayor's director of arts and culture.

A million visitors are expected during the festival's four days, timed to boost tourism during the capital's quietist weekend, Mirza said.

Underscoring the scale of the event, central London's Piccadilly Circus, famous for its neon advertising and its statue of Eros, was closed to traffic for only the third time in the last 100 years.

The free festival runs until January 17, from 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm each evening.

Artichoke's Marriage was coy on whether there would be another light festival the city.

"We'll see," she said.

© 2016 AFP

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