Lux Helsinki fends off the winter darkness

Full of illuminated surprises, the annual Lux Helsinki light festival uses coloured beams to transform some of the city’s best loved buildings and streets in early January. You can see them in our photos without braving the cold.

Lux Helsinki sheds some light on the Finnish capital in its darkest winter hour with comforting annual regularity (January 5–9 in 2019). Artists from Finland and all over the world create a glowing urban gallery of colour, warming the city’s soul in the void that remains when Christmas and New Year’s Eve have come and gone.

The free festival offers a recommended trail complete with official guide and map, and combines established works and specially commissioned installations. In 2019 LUX extended to include satellite attractions at Helsinki’s Old Student House and Cable Factory Cultural Centre, as well as the Hanasaari Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre in neighbouring Espoo.

Helsinki’s magnificent new central library, Oodi (the name means “ode” in Finnish), took pride of place on a route of 12 lighting features leading past Finlandia Hall and the National Museum and looping through the district of Töölö.

Themes vary from simple visual delight to more challenging ideas. At Finlandia Hall, Immanuel Pax’s installation Trespassing explored the sinister ubiquity of security cameras. Outside the National Museum, Mexican Ghiju Diaz de Leon’s Shelter Seekers addressed issues of migration and climate change.

Exact weather conditions are hard to predict in early January, but they’re always likely to be chilly. Over the years Lux Helsinki visitors have braved everything from sleety blizzards to bone-freezing Arctic blasts.

Finlandia hall in darkness, illuminated with deep blue lights.

The light studio Ramboll transforms Helsinki’s iconic Finlandia Hall with an installation that represents the preciousness of clean water. Photo: Tim Bird

Children admiring lanterns hanging from tree branches.

“Lantern Park,” surrounding Hakasalmi Villa, is an annual Lux favourite, an enchanted display of swaying, dreamlike lights by local children, students and artists. Photo: Tim Bird

Oodi library with light artwork.

UK artist Tim Etchells designed an installation at Helsinki’s new showpiece central library, Oodi. The poetic slogan “We wanted to be the sky” is a quote from the Cat Stevens song “Colours and Kids.” Etchells says, “Art is always different when placed in a dialogue with different environments.” Photo: Tim Bird

An ice cream vendor offering samples to passers-by.

Never too cold for ice cream: A well-known Finnish vender offers samples of its new products to Lux visitors. Photo: Tim Bird

Geometric shapes in green light installed between two buildings.

“Grid,” by light artists Pekka Korpi and Otto Suojanen and sound artist Antti Nykyri, brings a six-metre wooden frame to life with geometric shapes. Photo: Tim Bird

Colourful round lights hanging in a railing, a crowd gathered to watch them.

One of the most transfixing and spectacular installations at Lux 2019 is “Large Pendulum Wave” in the neighbourhood of Töölö, by Ivo Schoofs of the Netherlands. Photo: Tim Bird

Colourful round-shaped lights.

“Large Pendulum Wave” is a light installation representing “the poetry of mathematics and the beauty of physics.” Photo: Tim Bird

People standing by a small café shed with Finlandia hall in the background.

Lux Café provides physical warmth to supplement the spiritual nourishment of the light installations, while projections by Ramboll cover Finlandia Hall in the background. Photo: Tim Bird

Helsinki Music Centre illuminated with a large full moon.

Italian artist Marco Brianza transforms the Nordic region’s biggest outdoor advertising display, on the side of the Music Centre, with “Moonlight,” a digital reminder of the illuminating power of nature. Photo: Tim Bird

Graffiti showing a squirrel, a fox and a rabbit lit with ultraviolet light.

The 40 works in “Ultraviolet Gallery,” by the all-female collective Mimmit peinttaa (meaning “chicks paint”) show animals, portraits, historical buildings and graffiti, and are arranged to form a passage in Finlandia Hall’s forecourt. Photo: Tim Bird

Trees illuminated with pink and blue lights, National Museum in the background.

In the yard behind the National Museum, Mexican artist Ghiju Diaz de Leon’s piece “Shelter Seekers” addresses issues of migration and climate change. Photo: Tim Bird

A deep blue light installation on the wall of Sanoma House.

“The End of the Digital Age” is Mikko Kunnari’s mesmerising, shifting display above the door on the corner of Sanoma House, marking the start of the Lux adventure. Photo: Tim Bird

By Tim Bird, January 2019