Afternoon Dust

Cheriton Lights

The month of February is marked by the pagan festival of Imbolc and the Christian feast of Candlemas; both events are traditionally celebrated with candlelit processions, the light of the candles symbolising the returning warmth as winter wanes. Unfortunately a bitterly cold and snow-filled wind managed to blow away any rumours of spring throughout the weekend of the inaugural Cheriton Light Festival in East Kent, so it was good to see hundreds of people still brave the elements to enjoy two days of light-related art installations, a lantern parade, and a sculptural bonfire.

The artworks on display on and around Cheriton High Street demonstrated a range of responses to the festival theme. In some cases, light itself comprised the work’s primary material: Kaleidoscope by Terry Perk featured a giant version of the classic optical toy peering into the artist’s own dining room, while Tine Bech’s Catch Me Now used a single spotlight to create an interactive game from pools of coloured light. Other artists simply made use of projections to display eye-catching animations: Greg Stobbs and Kevin Francis’ graffiti-inspired Rising Giant was both punchy and tender, while Ross Ashton and Karen Monid drew on the designs of a church’s stained glass windows to create a colourful light and sound installation on its façade. Wheely Groovy used pedal power to project films from British and French art students, while Andrew Baldwin’s Firefly, a giant mechanical incarnation of the eponymous insect, puttered up and down Cheriton High Street under its own steam. Gigi Yutsz’s cloud sculpture reflected and refracted light from glowing coloured balls embedded inside it, and numerous other sculptures and projections added their own colours.

Although many of the works were entrancingly beautiful, I didn’t come across anything that by itself made me see or think about the world differently, as perhaps a work of art should do. Maybe this wasn’t necessary, however: critical substance could be derived from the context of the festival itself as an alternative form of community-forming interaction based on neither work nor shopping, and as a celebration of light and colour that didn’t have a product to advertise. It was nice to see how creativity and imagination could encourage people who perhaps normally blank each other in the bus or supermarket queue to laugh together and share a few comments about art. There could be valid grounds for arguing that such communal experiences are merely a distraction from the business of genuine social change — the art spectacle as new opium for the masses, maybe. Yet Cheriton Lights certainly made me feel more warmth towards other human beings than a couple of hours of Saturday night telly, and the political weight of this fact, when multiplied by the number of festival attendees, is perhaps not negligible.