Penshaw Monument set to shine as Sunderland landmark makes Lumiere debut

Penshaw Monument will become a striking and haunting memorial to lives lost due to Covid as part of this month’s Lumiere Festival.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 12:38 pm
A Telling of Light, Elaine Buckholtz & Ian Winters, 2021, Render Courtesy of the Artist.

The bi-annual light spectacular, which draws national attention, returns to Durham from November 18-21 – and for the first time a Sunderland landmark will host one of the 37 installations.

Visible from up to 20 miles away, A Telling of Light will transform the distinctive structure as part of a special new commission which responds to the pandemic.

The vision of artists Elaine Buckholtz and Ian Winters, the light and sound piece is transforming the Greek-style monument into an other worldly spectacle which will be seen for thousands each evening, by those visiting on foot and those driving past.

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Tim Etchells, Go With the Flow_ Swim Against the Tide, 2017, Image Courtesy of the Artist

Multidisciplinary artist Elaine hails from the US, so was unfamiliar with Penshaw Monument until she received the commission, but she says it’s been an honour to learn about its history and to transform the space for the festival.

“There were so many unknown variables with this piece but we tried it all yesterday and we’re shocked at how well it’s turned out. It’s quite a spectacle, it looks really other worldly. We think people are going to remember this for a very long time,” she explained.

The artist added: “With Penshaw Monument you already have a lot of history and this sense of honouring the past that’s embedded in the monument, so the piece is sort of in keeping with the place and structure.

"It’s already a place that means something to people and connects people. And it’s easy to come together as a world community as the pandemic is very close to all our hearts.”

As well as abstracted landscape scene projections changing into single illuminated breaths, symbolising the loss of breath with Covid, rising up the pillars of the monument, A Telling of Light features music that focuses in on Hildagard von Bingen, the 12th-century mystic and visionary and one of the earliest-known female composers.

The soundtrack will be available for audiences to download to listen to at a distance as they view the piece, on the Lumiere website and on the Artichoke guide on the Bloomberg Connects app.

Elaine added: “The piece is contemplative and mournful, but also uplifting. We all experience death, it’s part of being alive, we all face it. And there’s a lot of beauty in death, once you come to terms with mourning. It brings people together, and this piece does that: in mourning and in the majesty of the world.”

Event producers Artichoke are marking the return to live events by presenting its most ambitious and far-reaching edition of Lumiere yet, with a programme that extends beyond the city into the wider area for the first time.

As part of the wider festival, Seaham Marina will host Go With The Flow / Swim Against The Tide, a large-scale LED text sculpture by Tim Etchells, pairing two well-known phrases, which seem to contradict each other, hinting at the social struggles of compliance and resistance.

The Penshaw and Seaham pieces are two of 29 installations outside of the ticketed area.

Elaine said: “When something is given to the public, it gives me a deep satisfaction as an artist. Art is, in spirit, for culture, it’s for all of us.”

Ticketing details

Lumiere is open each night between 16:30 and 23:00. (County programme 16:30 to 22:00). The festival is completely free to attend and 29 of the 39 installations are always accessible without a ticket. In a change from previous years, the controlled City centre area of Lumiere will be ticketed for the entirety of the festival opening times every night. This is to manage audience numbers as part of measures in place to offer a COVID secure experience.

Digital ticketing in the controlled central Lumiere zone

A timed ticket will be necessary to visit the controlled central Lumiere zone at any time between 16:30 and 23:00 when the festival closes. There is no time limit once inside the controlled zone. Tickets will be available for the following time slots: 16:30, 18:00, 19:00, 20:00, 21:00, 22:00.

Priority booking for local residents

All tickets will be available online at

Parking restrictions and road closures

Letters have been posted to residents and businesses in affected areas with information about parking restrictions and road closures.

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