Review: Light Festival turns Battersea Power Station into a fluorescent spectacle

By Joseph Marshall
February 12 2020, 15.55

Battersea Power Station has been under construction for most of its lifetime.

A disused white elephant in the south of the capital, there have been many attempts to regenerate the space and its surroundings over the years, none of which have come to pass until now.

At one stage there were plans to turn the 42-acre site into a theme park.

Then, in 2008 it was reported that Chelsea FC were considering using the area for their new stadium.

All efforts to revive the landmark have fallen through. That said, if you’ve never been there in person, now might be a good time…

When it goes dark, the looming spectre of Battersea Power Station forms a dramatic backdrop to a large stretch of the Thames riverbank.

I have passed it countless times on the train during the day, but was nonetheless impressed by how imposing it is at night.

This is particularly true from the vantage point of its new residential development, Circus West Village, which hosts a collection of light festivals until February 16, a complement to the iconic building that towers above it.

The Light Festival is made up of four art installations created by Amsterdam’s Light Art Collection. Approaching from the direction of Chelsea Bridge, the first piece you encounter is entitled ‘This It Is, Be Here Now’ by Tropism Art & Science Collective.

It looks like the type of neon sign you might see outside a run-down bar. Its creators have taken a philosophical slogan and put it in a new, unlikely context.

The neon is inherently tacky and associated with hedonism, but at the same time what it spells out offers deeper spiritual guidance.

‘Talking Heads’ by Viktor Vicsek is essentially two oversized human heads covered in 4,000 LEDs.

They light up in a constantly changing series of patterns, intended to form facial expressions.

Apparently, the luminous configurations represent different emotions, but this was lost on me.

It’s difficult to recognise if they are happy, sad, or just indifferent.

‘Eternal Sundown’ by Mads Vegas is a deconstruction of the colours produced by a sunset.

Using around 140 filtered fluorescent tubes, it is integrated into The Coaling Jetty, which opened to the public in August as part of the broader regeneration project.

Best viewed from the opposite river bank, the lights reflect from the Thames like aquatic aurora borealis.

There is a poignancy to the piece, in that the colours can represent the different phases of light and darkness we experience on a personal level as the earth spins on its axis.

‘Action Reaction 2.0’ is a large screen with a thousand buttons.

Visitors are invited to press them, creating different patterns of colour.

There doesn’t seem to be any logical order as to what happens when you press the buttons, but it is easy to become deluded that there is.

It was exciting to interact with the piece on a childlike level, but at the same time it felt as if I had seen a lot of art based on a similar concept before.

Circus West Village is part one of a £9bn regeneration project, that will turn Battersea Power Station into what developers are calling a ‘vibrant cultural destination’, as well as somewhere to live.

It is currently home to more than 1,000 people and has its own shops, restaurants and bars as well as a cinema and theatre.

Carlin Fier, head of brand at Battersea Power Station Development Company, told the South West Londoner: “Establishing a new cultural district for London that will generate a sense of community…will continue to be a very important pillar as the neighbourhood grows.

“Circus West Village is already open and thriving with over three million people visiting in the last 12 months.”

I am personally anticipating the second phase of development, which will allow visitors to travel on a chimney lift to the top of the power station itself, where there’s a 360-degree view of the London skyline, giving the Grade II listed building a purpose once more.

The Light Festival is free and runs until February 16. Find information here.

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