The Illuminated River artwork was officially switched on this evening on Blackfriars Road, Waterloo, Golden Jubilee, Westminster and Lambeth Bridges. The unified, subtly moving installation by US artist Leo Villareal now extends across nine Thames bridges, from London to Lambeth, to form the longest public art commission in the world.
Illuminated River reframes the Thames at night, offering a cultural experience that is open air, free to view and accessible to all. An estimated 90 million people a year will see the artwork over its minimum ten-year lifespan.
This visionary public art installation demonstrates how London continues to be a creative and imaginative capital. In spite of the challenges of the past year, Illuminated River has completed on time and on budget. The illuminations will transform perceptions of the Thames at night, with every bridge in the installation having a different, never-repeated lighting algorithm. Illuminated River offers the public the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and calm of the Thames and its bridges and observe the varied architectural and engineering heritages along London’s river.
The Illuminated River Foundation and its core project team have overcome many obstacles to complete the project during COVID-19 restrictions. In the midst of the pandemic, Villareal was unable to travel to the UK to programme the artwork in person. Instead, the artist used LiveU streaming technology to view and adjust the light sequences in real time from his New York studio. This provided a precision and accuracy almost equal to physical proximity, transmitting footage with less than a second in time delay and allowing Villareal to fine-tune the artwork as if ‘en plein air’. Illuminated River is the first completed art project in the UK to use LiveU streaming technology from a remote location.
The launch marks the culmination of one of the largest and most detailed planning processes London has ever seen, with 30 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents granted. Over the past five years, the Illuminated River Foundation has orchestrated the collaboration between its American artist and British architects, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, in conjunction with 18 specialist teams. An extensive network of more than 50 stakeholders and project partners includes seven London boroughs, five bridge owners, Transport for London, Network Rail, as well as organisations such as Historic England, the London Wildlife Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Funded almost exclusively by philanthropic donations from four major benefactors, this impressive project demonstrates an unprecedented level of collaboration across the disciplines of art, design, lighting, technology, planning and construction, informed by expertise including ecology, sustainability and civil engineering. To share learning from the project for the benefit of all, the Foundation is making its extensive and ground-breaking research and learning freely available as a public resource.
To celebrate the completion, a new public engagement programme for 2021 will be launched by the Illuminated River Foundation, with innovative evening activities created for different audiences (in line with potential tier restrictions). A number of digital initiatives form part of the programme, including a second collaboration with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where student composers have created new, free-to-download music inspired by the bridges and the artwork. Blind and partially sighted people are invited to engage with the artwork through descriptive audio guides. Created in collaboration with the charity VocalEyes, the downloadable tracks interweave descriptions of the artworks and the bridges with cultural, historical and social references while evoking the atmosphere of each piece.