Artichoke’s LONDON’S BURNING festival closed on Sunday, September 4, as a 120-meter-long sculpture of 17th century London was set alight on the River Thames. The spectacular finale marked the end of a week of extraordinary arts events that transformed the capital to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
An audience of tens of thousands watched enthralled from the pedestrianized Victoria Embankment and the South Bank, as well as from Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges which had been closed for the event. In addition, over one million people tuned into the live broadcast commissioned by The Space and hosted by Lauren Laverne, via social media platforms, and many more watched it streamed through external outlets across the world.
LONDON 1666 was designed by American artist David Best, working in collaboration with Artichoke and involved months of learning and participation work with young people across several boroughs adjacent to the City of London. Hundreds of schoolchildren took part in integrated drawing and history workshops in schools across these boroughs. The project also offered young Londoners not in education, employment or training, a potentially life-changing opportunity to take part in the construction of the piece. All involved received an introduction to the construction and creative industries, and the opportunity to gain a CSCS certificate and further employment qualifications.
LONDON’S BURNING festival invited audiences from 30 August – 4 September to rediscover the City of London and beyond, its past and its future through a series of art installations and performances. Offering an opportunity to contemplate the lasting impact the Fire had on the architecture, outlook and infrastructure of the City including some of its most iconic buildings and landmarks through a unique Artichoke perspective.
Thousands joined Station House Opera’s DOMINOES, on Saturday, a giant domino fall of 23,000 breezeblocks following the paths of the Great Fire through the City’s streets and buildings. Manned by 350 volunteers, the fall culminated in three spectacular fiery finales at Paternoster Square, The Gherkin and The Barbican.
At Broadgate, audiences watched mesmerised as individual actors performed in a tank that regularly filled with 3,600 gallons of water. HOLOSCENES by US-based Early Morning Opera reminded viewers that today, it is flooding rather than fire that is the contemporary threat to our cities.
Martin Firrell’s FIRES OF LONDON saw two new commissions on either side of the River Thames, Fires Ancient lit the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral with fiery projections echoing the catastrophic impact of the Great Fire of London on the Cathedral itself whilst Fires Modern projected onto the fly-tower of the National Theatre, revealing stories of resurgence and change that have shaped the UK’s capital city.
More than 3,000 people visited OF ALL THE PEOPLE IN ALL THE WORLD, by Stan’s Cafe, at the Inner Temple. The installation which used 2 tonnes of rice to visualise statistics, compared historical facts with contemporary moments, offering a different way to experience the impact of these dramatic events each day. Thousands more enjoyed the spitting, crackling, afterdark FIRE GARDEN by Compagnie Carabosse on the riverside in front of Tate Modern each night.
The TALKS PROGRAMME which accompanied the LONDON’S BURNING artistic programme explored how cities past and present have responded to crisis. It included an exclusive poetry reading by actor Simon Callow at the top of The Monument, and The Great Fire in Three and a Half Pints, a series of three guided walking tours, including a spine-tingling tour of the City’s streets led by psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff, each tour stopping off at an historic Fuller’s pub along the way.
Elsewhere in the programme, speakers included London’s highest ranking female firefighter, Becci Bryant, and authors Suzanne O’Sullivan and Andrew Mitchell Hurley, whose talk explored historical and contemporary themes including our fascination with fire, the language of crisis, the part art can play in solutions to crisis, responses to world trauma and the psychology of fear.
In addition, to mark this moment in London’s history, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London hosted a tea party on Friday 2 September to recognise the efforts of the numerous towns and boroughs who contributed to the rebuilding of the City and the support of its residents in the days, weeks and months after the Fire. In 1667 a total of £12,794 was raised, equivalent to £1.9 million in today’s money. Guests included over 150 Lords Lieutenants, Lord Mayors, Mayors, and Council Leaders from across the country, and Masters of City Livery Companies.
Developed by creative producers Artichoke and supported by City of London Corporation, an award from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme and further support from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and a raft of sponsors and funders, LONDON’S BURNING was part of Great Fire 350, a City-wide season of cultural events marking this anniversary.
Helen Marriage, Director of Artichoke said: “50 years ago the 300th anniversary of the Great Fire of London was marked with a pageant. We wanted to do something completely different with an artistic approach that would mark the moment, create modern parallels, and bring the event to life for everyone.
“Each piece of the London’s Burning programme added a different dimension and it was all free. People got to run through the City’s streets and buildings in a wildly exuberant domino fall, and were reminded of the beauty and the horror of events centuries earlier with a beautifully-choreographed burn on the river for the finale.
“Our aim at Artichoke is to create extraordinary moments that disrupt the everyday and reach the widest possible audience. We’re very proud to have done exactly this through London’s Burning”.
Mark Boleat, the City of London Corporation’s Policy Chairman, said:
“City of London Corporation, the founding sponsors of LONDON’S BURNING, are delighted that Artichoke’s spectacular programme of events was so successful. A fiery St. Paul’s dome, giant toppling dominoes, and a 120-metre wooden sculpture engulfed in flames were among the art installations that captured people’s imaginations and generated global media coverage. Not only did it commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire and celebrate how the City rose from the ashes, ‘London’s Burning’ demonstrated that we take considerable pride in our huge investment in arts, culture and heritage.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “London is the greatest city in the world and the events of LONDON’S BURNING are an inspiring testament to the way in which the capital responded to a significant moment in our city’s history. London’s Burning has captured the imagination of thousands of Londoners and visitors from around the globe, showing that London is open to the world and bursting with creativity”
Joyce Wilson, London Area Director, Arts Council England, said: “It has been wonderful to see Artichoke’s LONDON 1666 grow from ambitious beginnings to spectacular conclusion. With the platform provided by The Space, it reached audiences across the globe, and its legacy will continue in the young participants whose lives have been changed. It is a fantastic example of great art and culture for everyone.”