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Light Festival, Lucerne: 7 reasons to put LILU in your 2020 diary

Lucerne is celebrating its first and highly successful Light Festival. From 10th to 20th January 2019, soft-lights shimmered across Lake Lucerne and this Swiss city’s beautiful architecture was highlighted by the installations. Throughout this historic city, in the centre of Switzerland, national and international artists created 18 beautiful and thought-provoking installations. In cold and dark January, Lucerne had decided it needed a shot of festivity to see it through the depths of winter. The Light Festival gave visitors the feeling that they were watching the development of a new and rapidly developing art form. After the success of the 2019 festival, artists will become more confident and adventurous. As the technology develops the 2020 Festival is likely to be even more impressive. Yet, there will be no fireworks, no loud explosions. This is January. Lucerne’s citizens quietly get on with their business. They save their riotous spirit for February’s carnival. The welcome Many visitors disembark from the railway station. For the Light Festival, the railway station’s grandiose and historic arch has been illuminated with purple light. Across the lake, in front of the Music Pavilion, the LILU logo shines brilliantly with lamps crammed together to form the abbreviation of LILU. Interactive This is a festival of interaction, fluidity and changing moods. One of the most popular installations was Juladi where everyone had their opportunity to be famous for a couple of seconds. Stepping up in front of a camera, festival-goers found their faces projected onto the building ahead for the ultimate super-sized multiple selfie. Cleverly with the Flurozoa installation, blue jelly-fish-like lights floated in the lake. The ebb and flow of the lake’s gentle waters acting as dimmers on the wires within the bulb, creating the effect of semi-organic aquatic life forms. Challenging Reminiscent of airport security portals, the Aben installation, was a collection of illuminated door frames. Working as a team, people could time their passage through the gates so that the gates were illuminated at the same time. The message from art collective Bildspur is that when we work together we have the potential to realise visions that we could not achieve individually. Another thought-provoking installation, Atoll, takes place below Lucerne’s most famous attraction, the Lion Monument, carved into the rock face to commemorate the death of 800 Swiss mercenaries during the French Revolution. Projections of sea-creatures rising from the water by a deck-chair and sun umbrella make us question whether global warming will return tropical shorelines to Lucerne. Genesis There were queues outside the Hofkirche for an astounding projection of 20,000 lumens of light which, in a virtuoso act of creativity, imagined the first three days of the creation. Few of us have ever imagined the creation as a spectator event. Some of the audience were in tears, and left speechless, by the spiritual emotions aroused by the spectacle. Artists’ collective Projektil, who used music from Mahler and Hayden as their soundtrack, are already planning next year’s installation which will cover the next three days of the creation. Charming One of the children’s favourite installations this year was “Shake it.” People passing the Music Pavilion saw a snow dome and shook it influencing the images projected. Artist Francois Chalet, who teaches animation at Lucerne’s University, developed the concept of a giant snowdome. Snow fell on dancing snowmen, skeletons and swans. There was a touch of Bauhaus to this cartoon-world creation. Luxurious accommodation The Schweizerhof Hotel is a prime location for visiting the Festival, grandly reclining on the shores of Lake Lucerne as it has done since 1845. In fact, the hotel puts on a light show for every day of the year, with its coloured lights reflecting off the lake. With its breathtaking views across the lake to the mountains the hotel has attracted an eclectic range of celebrities from B.B. King to Wagner. Celebrating this heritage, each of the 101 rooms has a small shrine to those who have stayed or had a connection with the hotel. More than a festival Once the light installations are switched off and the sun rises there is more to Lucerne than the light festival. Visitors take cruises on the star-shaped Lake Lucerne with the snowy mountains glistening above. A lunch-time gourmet lunch cruise, provided by the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company, is a particularly good way to savour the scenery. Lucerne is also home to Switzerland’s most visited museum, the Transport Museum. It also hosts an astonishing private collection of the work of Picasso, Klee, Renoir and many other artists at the Rosengart Gallery. Although the KKL arts centre is currently partially closed for refurbishment it is still worth walking around its prominent lakeside site for the astounding views.  

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. The light installations sound really diverse and entertaining, giving you plenty to think about. Certainly brings light to a depressing time of year.

  2. Agreed – I never thought that the creation would become “a spectator sport”. If the artists are already planning the next three days of creation for next year’s festival it is probably going to be even more spectacular than this year’s.

    One thing’s for sure, the technology will just keep on improving and the artists will be able to do more and more. The photo suggests that there’s no limit on their imagination.

  3. Interesting, very interesting. Lucerne is already one of my favourite European cities. Hosting a light festival in January’s going to make it a very tempting proposition. Visitors are going to have a lot more time and space. Of course it goes without saying that air fares and hotel room rates will be good value. Also at this time of year you are almost guaranteed snow on the mountains so the views will be spectacular.

  4. I haven’t actually got a 2020 diary as yet. When I finally get one, I can see a good case for putting the Lucerne Light Festival in it. Considering that this was the inaugural event there are some very clever ideas amongst the installations to get people thinking. It’s probably going to grow and grow as artists latch onto the idea that they can try out new concepts.

  5. This is pushing the envelope. It’s posing that biggie, what is art? Another big one is that some of this is interactive. Everyone gets a different vision and you get to shape it yourself. But it makes me fear for old-fashioned painting and sculpture. Could any painter match the intensity of this creation experience? How could even the most talented sculpture show the creation? With 20,000 lumens of light on your side you could do do much more. But is it still art???

  6. With 18 installations there were probably some going on in the Old Town too. Lucerne is a beautifully preserved city and I would imagine that some of the artists could have made the most of the atmospheric old timbered buildings and statues. With the lake and the wooden bridges this must be a real dream location for artists to work with.

  7. Shame that I only read this now! How I wish I was able to see it last January, what an amazing image of the illuminated streets and alleys. I am definitely putting this in my travel bucket list for January 2020. I can just imagine the planning that went into making this project a reality. I especially like the LILU logo and Hofkirche.

  8. These light spectaculars are becoming increasingly common throughout the world. I notice that there’s a lantern festival started up in the South of France recently. I also see that Singapore will be using a lot of light spectaculars to celebrate their bicentennial too. As the cost of electrics drops and as computing power continues to increase almost exponentially I think that these light festivals will became a much bigger attraction. Regarding Europe anything that brightens the dark days of winter is to be encouraged.

  9. This festival really lightens up the city, both figuratively and literally. Seeing bright and beautiful lights all around the community brings nothing but joy to those who see it and not to mention, beautiful works from different artists that brings the festivity to its peak. The fun doesn’t stop when the sun comes around because more is in store for those will visit.

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