London's Canary Wharf is dystopian in the nicest possible sense of the term. The sprawling dockland and financial hub is a sea of glass and steel, all reflected against the waters of the surrounding River Thames and marinas. The architectural uniformity of the European headquarters of global money titans like Credit Suisse and Barclays is both impressive and oppressive, while the sartorial uniformity of Canary Wharf’s denizens—suits, suits, and more suits—is the latter. It’s the ultimate monument to pre-Brexit Britain, one that finds London firmly the capital of European wealth and power. Canary Wharf glitters at night, with white lights shining from windows and moonlight bouncing off the water, but even these bright glints don’t truly disrupt the area’s silver and white duochrome. Thankfully, each January the Winter Lights festival arrives to inject vibrancy and color to the area.
This year's light art festival features 30 works scattered around Canary Wharf. Though most works aren’t site-specific, each is integrated into its environment. One of the largest scale works is a massive interactive sculpture by Belgium’s Ovo Collective. Upon entering the woven egg of color, visitors are enveloped in a hug of lights and immersive soundscapes.
Joachim Slugocki and Katarzyna Malejka’s Horizontal Interference wraps the trunks of trees in ribbons of colored lights, creating a rainbow out of the tiny city forest. The result is an incredibly dynamic, zig-zagging ribbon of light. Nearby is the similarly nature themed Bloom, by international digital media group Squidsoup. In a traffic roundabout’s circular garden, thousands of bulbs of light bob on stems like winter-blooming flowers.
Liliane Lijn’s Poemdrums and Koans are a series of conical sculptures that meld light and language. The cones all spin hypnotically, and the smaller sculptures bear brief spiraling poems, like “WHO ARE YOU AM I.” The largest sculpture is simply a tree-sized white cone traced with looping swirls of red light, cutting across it like a gentle cursive.
Inside a gorgeous rooftop garden in one of Canary Wharf’s many steel monoliths is one of the most arresting pieces of the entire show. Liter of Light was created by Mick Stephenson and kids from George Green’s School. The work pays tribute to the global Liter of Light open source movement, which equips dwellings that lack electricity with lights made from empty soda bottles. On a white pyramid, cutaway segments reveal the empty soda containers, all emitting delicate multicolored lights. Surrounded by the trees and shrubs of the garden, the sculpture looks like something out of a Peter Pan-esque kid’s adventure fantasy.
Mads Christensen and Quays Culture co-created Cathedral of Mirrors, 12 responsive light towers that react to visitors' presence. Directly opposite these imposing sculptures is Andrew Bernstein and Gregory St. Pierre’s Water Wall, which uses sprays of mist as a projector screen for animated bursts of color. The shapes evolve into shimmering doodles against the night sky.
“What sets our festival apart from other light festivals across Europe,” explain Canary Wharf curators Keith Watson and Sally Williams in the exhibit’s press release, “is that you can get close up to the works and meet many of the artists and enjoy an escapist, enriching experience.”
To learn more about the Winter Lights festival click here.