Outdoor artworks illuminate London in Lumiere Festival

LONDON — The dark January streets of London are being transformed into an illuminated outdoor gallery as part of the Lumiere arts festival .

The festival, which runs for four nights starting Thursday, features more than 50 light-based artworks across the city. Some sit in alleyways or parks, while others light up buildings including Westminster Abbey and the National Theatre.

Organizers say more than 1 million people attended the free festival when it was first held in the city two years ago, enjoying the rare chance to stroll usually traffic-clogged streets closed to traffic.

"We take London, a massive world city — such a machine in terms of getting people in and out and shopping and so on — and for a brief moment we stop that," said Helen Marriage, director of arts charity Artichoke, which organizes Lumiere.

The works, by artists from around the world, are alternately eerie, surprising and playful. In a West End courtyard, French artist Stephane Masson's "Supercube" resembles a vending-machine full of mason jars, displaying a cornucopia of moving images.

Jo Pocock and the team Lantern Company have filled Leicester Square with giant plants, animals and butterflies, in a surreal scene with echoes of "Alice in Wonderland."

Near King's Cross Station, "Waterlicht," ("Water Light") by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, makes visitors feel they are underneath roiling blue waves. It's both a comment on global warming and a delightful illusion.

Nearby, Canadian artist Rami Bebawi has planted a small park with a field of flower-like plastic stems that glow in different colors and click gently in the breeze.

Rhys Coren has projected an animated film onto the grand Georgian facade of the Royal Academy building for the work "RA — Love Motion."

"I've never worked on this scale before," said the London-based artist, who admitted to being apprehensive about the reaction he would get.

But he said he'd noticed that the music that's part of his work acts like "a Pied Piper effect," drawing passers-by into becoming spectators.

Marriage said the festival taps into a hunger for live experience — "the 'be there or you've missed it' moment" — in an age when we spend much of our time staring at screens.

"Standing in a crowd, sharing a moment, is really important," she said.

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