Let there be light

London is preparing for the 9th Bloomsbury Festival. The event, centred in Russell Square, will run across Camden from the 22nd to the 25th of October, and is expected to host around 50,000 visitors.

Camden Council has awarded a community grant towards the festival, which will promote 100 events throughout the four-day extravaganza. The team, headed by Director Kate Anderson and Festival Co-ordinator Caggy Kerlogue, have planned what they describe as “a creative explosion of performance and heritage events… giant cinema screens you feel you can walk into, a grand night of fire and music, a rainbow of garden squares and hub of festivities around Bloomsbury throughout the long weekend.”

The 2015 festival will be themed around The International Year of Light. IYOL Programme Co-ordinator Toby Shannon describes its cultural significance: “The year aims to celebrate the impact of light on the world we live in and its potential to improve lives. The Bloomsbury Festival provides a unique opportunity to cross disciplinary boundaries. The theme of light will be explored through art, music, theatre, science, technology, poetry, history, and through stimulating collaborations to explore light in all its uses, appearances and moods. The Festival offers a rich environment for the exchange of ideas in London.”

The official launch took place on May 20th, in an event run by Donne Alexander of The Wellcome Trust. Guests were introduced to a UV gallery of light, where artists, academics and scientists learnt more about the rudiments of glo-germ gel (demonstrating how bacteria can survive on skin even after hand-washing) and had a chance to wear a rather fetching pair of SPIE rainbow glasses.

Mark De Rivaz, Steward of Bedford Estates, explains how the event has evolved: “The Bedford Estates has been a partner of the Festival since 2010. We will provide The Bedford Square Garden, free of charge with the provision of a marquee. The Duchess of Bedford is the Festival’s patron and she has been involved with judging the art competition in July for the branding and imagery of the 2015 Festival (which was won by designer Andrew Long of Central St Martin’s).”

UK Age Concern Camden and UCL have worked with Dr Michael Eades of The School of Advanced Studies since 2013 to create Festival in a Box, allowing local people with dementia to interact with proceedings from home, using sensory aids. Eades explained: “It will offer those living with dementia an opportunity to share their knowledge and stories of the area, providing insight into Bloomsbury and surrounding areas of London. The outreach programme will not only be an opportunity for them to actively re-engage with community life, but also to participate in re-narrating the history of Bloomsbury itself. These boxes will become miniature ‘archives of engagement’.”

Key supporters such as The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are engaging with performance artists to interpret their work. Vicki Bazalgette explains: We are excited to be a Festival Partner for the first time this year. Our activities will allow our researchers and members of the public to delve into discussions about health in creative ways.  School researcher Dr Catherine Carver is collaborating with The Place and choreographer Subathra Subramaniam on a new piece of contemporary dance inspired by light in medicine and health, which will be performed by the youth dance group Shuffle. We will be hosting a ‘Living Library’ towards the beginning of the Festival – an event where our staff are cast in the role of living books, and you can come to ‘read’ them and take part in discussions about health around the world. Our family event will take place on the Sunday, where people can find out how clean our hands really are in our UV activities tent.”

Katy Jackson of The Weiner Library has opened the Library’s Holocaust archives to local residents. “Our first event for the Festival took place in October 2012 when we opened up our doors and offered behind-the-scenes tours of our exhibition Remembering Raoul Wallenberg and Lives Saved, which will form the basis of our travelling exhibition for 2015. We took part again in 2013 at the main site in Bedford Square. Partnering for the 2015 event was a natural development for us after taking part in previous festivals. We’re delighted to be involved.”

James Wilson of The Swedenborg Society is keen to introduce international artists: “We first participated in the Bloomsbury Festival in 2010. That year was our bicentenary year and we decided to tie our participation in the festival to a performance and exhibition from our two artists in residences, Paul Tecklenberg and Nissa Nishikawa. This year, we’ll be doing a literary panel discussion with our new president, Homero Aridjis, one of Mexico’s most celebrated poets and authors, who will be discussing his new poetry anthology An Angel Speaks. We hope that by participating, Bloomsbury Festivalgoers and Swedenborg Society members become aware of each other’s work and events programme (including exhibitions, performances, talks, readings, and film screenings, which are open to all and free of charge).”

Music has an integral part to play within the local community, bringing different faiths and backgrounds together.Katie Price, Head of Communications at SOAS, discusses the busy timetable of events planned within the festival programme. “Throughout the year people come from across London to our free world music concert series, our lectures and our wonderful Brunei Gallery. The Bloomsbury Festival enables us to reach a completely different audience through the World Music stage that we have organised each year since 2010. It brought new audiences to the Brunei Gallery (for example, in 2011, 400 new people came to a Bloomsbury Festival event there). This year the Head of our Department for the Study of Religions is working with a chaplain from Goodenough College to explore light in religion, reflecting the Festival’s 2015 theme of light. The 2016 Festival theme will be language – a perfect opportunity for us to showcase our language research (we teach more than forty languages, from Igbo to Urdu to Japanese and Chinese) and celebrate our centenary.”

Artist Simon O’Donovan is working on light exhibitions at The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras: “My work primarily focuses on representations of sight and blindness in mythology, theology, science and culture. I work with biography and the invention/ fabrication of memory. Is the shadow cast a reality? How is truth manipulated through time and not a necessary condition for sight? The proposed work is realised as a series of belongings and objects. It charts a period of time in the life of E.B. Ames, a nineteenth century gold prospector, a murderer, a rebel against the light.”

Dr Matthew Beaumont of UCL presents literary talks on London history. “I have given talks to the festival over the last two years. I will be providing a lecture on ‘night walking’. I published a book on the subject this year called Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London from Chaucer to Dickens, about the history of people who walk the streets of the city at night from the 13th to the 19th century. My previous talk in 2014 was a collaborative set of talks organised by Florian Mussgnug called London’s Burning on apocalyptic visions of the city. The festival is a good way of encouraging more diverse and transdisciplinary intellectual interests amongst the student community.”

Andrew Youngson of Birkbeck College remarks, “Birkbeck came on board with the festival from 2012, showcasing literary events at Senate House. This brought together academics and authors who compared their personal and professional history of Bloomsbury including Birkbeck’s Professor Sir Phil Cohen, author Iain Sinclair and UCL’s Professor Rosemary Ashton. The Bloomsbury Festival is a great platform for academics, writers and philosophers to share ideas and inspire new audiences.”

Artist Geoff Harrison has been hugely impressed by the rich diversity of the festival: “In 2010, I undertook an art commission to produce a series of drawings that were displayed in the Chapel of Rest in St Georges Gardens. For 2011, I curated an exhibition at the Orange Dot Gallery on Tavistock Place and for the 2012 and 2013 festivals, I produced a public participation event called the People’s Portrait Project, which got together a group of artists in a tent to draw free portraits of festival goers. I love the fact that the festival has always been free; the atmosphere around Russell Square is electric and there’s lots of fun and exciting things to do for the weekend.”

The final word goes to Stuart Reeves, Digital Media Producer of The Science Museum: “The openness to interpretation of the festival is exciting, conjuring up so many differing perceptions. The IYOL will give those attending a clear understanding of the importance of Light Science, vital for existing and future advances in medicine, energy, information and communications, fibre optics, architecture, archaeology, entertainment, art and culture. What a wonderful way to bring everyone together!”

For details on how to donate, volunteer or support The Bloomsbury Festival, visit www.bloomsburyfestival.org

Lynsey Ford

Lynsey Ford

Lynsey Ford is an alumnus of Birkbeck College, with a BA in Film and Media. She contributed to Lamp and Owl throughout her studies, and was Managing Editor in her final year. Lynsey is interested in film history, literature and theatre.
Lynsey Ford

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