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Let there be light – a visit to the Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival

Braving a freezing dark January evening this week, the MET Studio team headed east to the glittering high-rises of Canary Wharf to visit its third annual Winter Lights Festival.

Each year the Docklands estate is home to over thirty light installations dotted around its landscape, the creation of the most innovative artists and designers around today presenting work in different forms of light technology. Some interactive, some performance art and some simply visual illuminations, the dazzling artworks provide quite the spectacle after dark.

This year is the biggest yet, with several taking over the yet-to be opened Crossrail station, where a host of interactive sculptures take over its new underground retail space, soon to be fitted out with its future shops, adding a new stripped back dimension to their context. An interactive light tunnel using over 30,000 LEDs, titled On Your Wavelength, has been specifically designed for the space and is controlled by a participant’s mind via an EEG headset. Electrical data is used to control music and light patterns within the tunnel, with its designer Marcus Lyall asking us how social space can be used to display our inner selves in a way that is both intimate and anonymous.

Mateo Mounier & St Victoire Production have taken the idea of digital creativity to the extreme with Digital Skin, an interactive installation where participants can be digitally ‘painted’ using projected light and colour. The whole process is filmed, and then edited with music and effects, with the resulting video uploaded and shared on social media.

Cathedral of Mirrors, by Mads Christensen & Quays Culture, brings a touch of disco to the corporate architecture of the Wharf, with twelve columns of pulsating coloured lights that respond to visitor’s movements walking through the installation. Certainly a favourite with the Snapchat and Instagrammers, the columns explore how patterns of light affect us emotionally. It certainly lives up to the accolade of ‘taking it to the club’.

At the far western edge of the Wharf located within the Westferry Circus roundabout is Bloom by Squidsoup, a collection of a thousand globes of light planted like swaying stalks in a field. Each globe is location-aware and able to communicate with its counterparts, creating a wave of synchronised effects and sounds that respond to changes in ambience around the Circus. The effect when all thousand pulsate together is impressive, a shimmering field of colour in the foreground of the estate’s skyscrapers.

Any visitors to the Olympic Park in the summer of 2012 will recognise Bit.Fall, a wall of shimmering water droplets that create illuminated words which fall into the dock below. Julius Popp’s installation this year derives words from The Times live news feed, providing a brief moment of that day’s events before dissolving into the water.

This year’s must-see piece appears in the form of a giant egg made from a wooden lattice that visitors walk into across a shallow pool that reflects the pulsating light inside. Named Ovo after its designers Ovo Collective, the giant structure is based on the Golden Proportion that is present everywhere in the universe, from infinitely small in the DNA helix to infinitely large in the cyclical movement of planets and galaxies. It certainly seemed the crowd pleaser judging by the queues.

Overall the installations are an impressive and dramatic collection. Its popularity definitely shows there is an appetite for people to experience art in the urban environment after dark, and with forthcoming projects proposed by the Mayor of London such as The Illuminated River and future Lumière London events the capital looks set to truly become the new city of lights.

Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2017 runs until Friday, February 27th.

Winter Lights – Canary Wharf

Article written by Darren Lewis – Senior Graphic Designer @ MET Studio

All photos © MET Studio 2017