Return To The Lights Of Winter

It hasn’t been around for a couple of year, but this year Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights returned, which meant a birthday tradition could be re-established as Heather and I visited on a cold .

Gaia's Big Brother

A floating globe

One thing about reaching Canary Wharf from home is that we get the excitement of going on the DLR (it’s got no driver you know!) So it was we approached the lights from not quite a Canary Wharf station, but Heron Quays and found ourselves walking the little distance towards the main event. We were more or less immediately confronted with the Earth floating in some water. Floating Earth is a cousin to Gaia, which Heather and I saw in Rochester Cathedral last year. It’s a bit less impressive out in the open, but does look very pretty sitting in the still, reflective water.

Tree Multitudes

A number of sparkling trees and reflections

Walking up past the tube station and through the little park which effectively sits on top of it, we were surrounded by sparkling trees, gently changing colours and nicely reflected in some of the water pools. Other of the pools we lit by colour changing lights shining through an artificial mist. It was all pretty, even if a little crowded.

Glowing Hula Hoops

Multi-coloured rings

Coming out the far end brought us to Emergence, a strange collection of illuminated projecting squares. It didn’t do a lot for us; seeming a little disconnected and pointless (there were periodic gaps that looked like an invitation to walk inside the structure, but that wasn’t an option, which seemed a shame). We quickly left it behind and headed further up the road, passing by the rainbow hula hoops of Glories by Richard
William Wheater and ignoring the massive queue for Anima (for too cold to stand around).

Octopus Of Light

So it seemed from a distance

That brought us on to another This Is Loop piece, TOROID being much more successful. An octopus of curving bars forms a torus mainly made of air, through which one can wander, finding the centre. The wide bars illuminate with lights along the edge, changing colour with a subtle sound track. Fun and attractive.

We decided not to bother with the ever present Lightbenches and headed back down the side of the park and round the Earth some more to the fun Bit.Fall. It’s always amusing as everyone unconsciously chants out the words formed from droplets as they fall, like some sort of pagan ritual.

Mirrors Across The Water

A dazzling confusion of views

Bit.Fall is a permanent install at Canary Wharf, and just a little further down the quay is another permanent piece of art, the peculiarly named The Clew, a great arch of red light spanning over a footbridge. Through that and round brought us to Cabot Square, often the site of an interesting installation. This year found the reflecting Continuum by Illumaphonium. Mirrored reflections were further reflected off the pool at the centre of the square, a circle of repeating views.

We Are Made Of Star Stuff

Revolving message

Set off to one side of the square a little open space held The Stars Come Out At Night, a rotating metal cylinder pierced by star shaped holes. Inner light then picks out the stars, and projects a message that “we are made of star stuff” onto the ground, as the whole thing rotates. It’s simple but captivating.


The signals of Ping pass around the circule

We headed down the road then to another circle, Westferry Circus (it’s always a bit weird that as a rule there’s just emptiness on the way down, barring the couple of times there were installations almost hidden off to the side). The circular and open nature always produces an interesting light installation, and this year was no exception. PING pinged around the circle, sound and light sweeping around, through and past the viewer. At first the lights seems simplistic, white or dark ring groupings, but it soon became clear that colour was also a factor, rainbows appearing and disappearing and a high rate. To be honest it’s one of those occasions where video may do more justice than the still image. We spent some time enjoying it, resting from the walking on a bench, before moving on (Westferry Circus also has the tiniest public toilets—one urinal and a cubical in the gents, despite how fancy they look).

Light Mammoths


Just beyond the circus stood some beasts from another time, glowing mammoths standing silently regarding the river. Permafrost – Sleeping Giants are three angular sculptures in red, blue, and green that seem to have possible stepped from a stained glass window to wander around the trees. We left them where they were and headed back round the rest of Ping and up the long road towards the Elizabeth Line station. The route took us across the bridge and hence through Captivated By Colour, with its geometric colours.

Spinning Top

Disco version of a children’s toy

On the other side of the bridge we found our way up to the top of the station building, the roof garden once again holding an artwork at each end. First was Intonaluci “The Light Snails”, a triplet of somewhat unimpressive spinning disks with light trails on them. We were more impressed by the colourful spiders hiding out in the foliage as we made our way to the far end of the roof garden and Fragmented Appearances. Looking like a giant spinning top made of mirrorball it’s reflections were visible from a distance before we actually found the thing itself. There it sat silently slowly turning, shards of light bouncing off it and onto the surrounding surfaces quite wonderfully, if a little enigmatically.

Fractured Stone

Light breaking through

Eventually we found ourselves back downstairs and briefly outside to see the alien egg like Elantica “The Boulder” sitting ominously in the water, and down some more into the deep levels of the building. There the queue for You Exist, Here, Now was far too long but we did get to wander through in[visible]. That felt a bit like wandering through a mirrorball, or possibly a badly lit and crazily tiled bathroom.

Tree Ring Like

In the greenhouse

Back outside in the increasing cold only a couple of more pieces remained. Out Of The Dark consisted of a couple of dark cones with lights running through them, accompanied by a deep soundtrack. They were interesting but the sort of thing one feels has been seen before. The final installation was one we’d somehow managed to miss earlier, though we knew it should be there. Crystal Greenhouse sat in a little corner of the park by the tube station, and we found it on our way out. Light projection of growth, and ice, and crystals charmed in the darkness. We went away happy, until next year!


With great thanks to Heather for additional images as I’d foolishly forgotten to reset some camera settings for some of the adventure.

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