Unusual and Artichoke stop traffic with spectacular displays during Lumiere London 2018

5th March 2018

A dazzling array of lighting exhibits and artworks brought London to life in January, when Lumiere London took to the capital to bring the biggest ever festival of light to the city's streets. Running from the 18th to the 21st January, it showcased London's spectacular and iconic architecture and streets with more than 50 works created by international and local artists. Once again, event organiser Artichoke has worked alongside Unusual – both the Services and Rigging division – to make the event possible.

Jim Dugan, Unusual explained: "Lumiere is always an amazing project for us – Unusual has worked with Artichoke on this for some years now - Unusual Services handles  the technical production element of Lumiere (this encompasses all technical aspects of an event from power to building permissions and road closures). Unusual Rigging provide the rigging expertise. When we set out this year, one of our main aims was to try and reduce the impact on London's transport system. Lumiere London 2018 had an expanded footprint, extending north to south, from Kings Cross, through Fitzrovia, Mayfair and London's West End, to Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Victoria, South Bank and Waterloo. With this in mind, we started very early on with requesting road closures and agreeing plans with Transport for London."

The second biggest challenge of the event was the ability to handle and monitor crowd numbers. During 2016, Unusual had identified various pinch points in the event, and so this year brought on board a crowd management specialist to work with them and the security teams, and to analyse the locations of the artworks, to ensure sufficient crowd flow and to enable contingency plans to be put into action if required. This involved plans to create one way systems at the drop of a hat if necessary. "This worked amazingly well," said Jim "and kept the audience flow very calm and controlled throughout the event. 

The exhibitions themselves, scattered throughout the city, naturally provided their own set of challenges as Helen Marriage, artistic director and CEO of Artichoke explained: "From a logistical point of view, Miguel Chevalier's Origins of the World – Bubble 2018 was extremely tricky. This involved the suspension of an 11m diameter sphere between the listed buildings that form the corners of Oxford Circus - an iconic site in a busy world city. Unusually high winds and terrible weather in the run up to the event caused some technical challenges, but in the end, the sphere flew and looked beautiful with Miguel's amazing projections covering the surface. Images of the installation went worldwide. Thankfully, the overcoming of technical challenges isn't ours. As our technical and production partner, we pose Unusual the problem and their brilliant technicians devise the solutions."

Leon Ingram, head rigger on the project added: "The sphere was indeed a challenge – we put it up quite early due to the agreement with TFL, but took it down again due to the high winds, then we reinstalled after the first night of the event. It was essentially a giant inflatable balloon – we had a couple of fans pumping air into it constantly, but also a heating system installed inside it to mitigate any potential snow loading. The weather was really working against us and we needed all potential worst case scenarios covered."

Helen stated: "The entire Unusual team is unrivalled in its ability to solve logistical and technical problems. I do not know of any other company who combine the amazing range of expertise – from rigging to an understanding of sound, light projection, communications and event management all under one roof. When you're managing an event like, this you need to know that you can call on the right people to solve your problems at the right time – and with Unusual there is always someone at the end of the phone who can help you."

She continued: "Unusual has been integral to a number of Artichoke projects – from the very first (The Sultan's Elephant) to the latest (Lumiere London 2018). They are there from the start of every project – attending site visits, helping scope out the nature and concepts of the work etc before proposing technical solutions that help the artists realise their dreams. We have had so much great feedback from the artists themselves – all of them taking the trouble to compliment us on the great technical support that they received – and that's entirely down to Unusual."

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