Golden Jubilee Footbridges_Illuminated River © Jason Hawkes.jpg

Lambeth Bridge, Illuminated River © Paul Crawley

Artist Projects

Leo Villareal

Illuminated River Launches Across Five More Thames Bridges

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021

The Illuminated River artwork was officially switched on this evening on Blackfriars Road, Waterloo, Golden Jubilee, Westminster, and Lambeth Bridges. The unified, subtly moving installation by US artist Leo Villareal now extends across nine Thames bridges, from London to Lambeth, to form the longest public art commission in the world.

Illuminated River reframes the Thames at night, offering a cultural experience that is open air, free to view, and accessible to all. An estimated 90 million people a year will see the artwork over its minimum ten-year lifespan.

Westminster Bridge_Illuminated River © James Newton.jpg

Westminster Bridge, Illuminated River © James Newton

Blackfriars Bridge_Illuminated River © James Newton.jpg

Blackfriars Bridge, Illuminated River © James Newton

This visionary public art installation demonstrates how London continues to be a creative and imaginative capital. In spite of the challenges of the past year, Illuminated River has completed on time and on budget. The illuminations will transform perceptions of the Thames at night, with every bridge in the installation having a different, never-repeated lighting algorithm. Illuminated River offers the public the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and calm of the Thames and its bridges and observe the varied architectural and engineering heritages along London’s river.

The Illuminated River Foundation and its core project team have overcome many obstacles to complete the project during COVID-19 restrictions. In the midst of the pandemic, Villareal was unable to travel to the UK to program the artwork in person. Instead, the artist used LiveU streaming technology to view and adjust the light sequences in real time from his New York studio. This provided a precision and accuracy almost equal to physical proximity, transmitting footage with less than a second in time delay and allowing Villareal to fine-tune the artwork as if ‘en plein air’. Illuminated River is the first completed art project in the UK to use LiveU streaming technology from a remote location.

Golden Jubilee Footbridges_Illuminated River © Jason Hawkes.jpg

Golden Jubilee Footbridges, Illuminated River © Jason Hawkes

The launch marks the culmination of one of the largest and most detailed planning processes London has ever seen, with 30 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents granted. Over the past five years, the Illuminated River Foundation has orchestrated the collaboration between its American artist and British architects in conjunction with 18 specialist teams. An extensive network of more than 50 stakeholders and project partners includes seven London boroughs, five bridge owners, Transport for London, Network Rail, as well as organizations such as Historic England, the London Wildlife Trust, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Waterloo Bridge_Illuminated River  © James Newton.jpg

Waterloo Bridge, Illuminated River © James Newton

Funded almost exclusively by philanthropic donations from four major benefactors, this impressive project demonstrates an unprecedented level of collaboration across the disciplines of art, design, lighting, technology, planning, and construction, informed by expertise including ecology, sustainability, and civil engineering. To share learning from the project for the benefit of all, the Foundation is making its extensive and ground-breaking research and learning freely available as a public resource.

To celebrate the completion, a new public engagement program for 2021 will be launched by the Illuminated River Foundation, with innovative evening activities created for different audiences (in line with potential tier restrictions). A number of digital initiatives form part of the program, including a second collaboration with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where student composers have created new, free-to-download music inspired by the bridges and the artwork. Blind and partially sighted people are invited to engage with the artwork through descriptive audio guides. Created in collaboration with the charity VocalEyes, the downloadable tracks interweave descriptions of the artworks and the bridges with cultural, historical, and social references while evoking the atmosphere of each piece.

Villareal’s vision was to create a unified lighting concept to refocus attention on the Thames bridges, illuminating their separate identities while respecting the architecture and engineering of each structure. His approach draws on the spirit of artists from English Romantics to Impressionists, referencing for example Monet and Whistler whose paintings immortalize London’s river and its bridges in washes of color and light.

(opens in a new window) Learn more at Illuminated River's website.

  • Artist Projects — Leo Villareal's Illuminated River Launches Across Five More Thames Bridges, Apr 13, 2021