With 2016 marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, the City was ablaze this weekend in flickering light installations, scorching Catherine wheels and great balls of fire. Created by Artichoke, the masterminds behind Lumiere London, the London’s burning commemorations sparked wonder across the capital. As a City worker, I headed into the heat after work to experience my working environment in an entirely new light.
The Great Fire of London famously started in a bakery on Pudding Lane after midnight on Sunday 2 September 1666. It raged for three days before being extinguished at Pye Corner in Smithfield. The fire engulfed 13,200 houses, 87 churches and numerous iconic buildings including the old St Paul’s Cathedral. The lessons of the fire helped to mould London’s architecture and shape the City of London today. What the 1666 workers and residents would have made of the Walkie Talkie remains a mystery.
My first foray into London’s burning was the under-water performance installation, Holoscenes. Depicting everyday characters in glass tanks slowly submerged in water, the performances provide a sobering reminder that today it’s flooding which is the biggest threat to our survival. Following the everyday routine of an Indian fruit-seller, the rising water sparks feelings of panic and horror as she struggles to breathe and grasp on to her fruit.
With the autumnal sun setting early, I head for the after-dark adventure staged in front of Tate Modern’s Fire Garden. The smell of burning metal hits me as soon as I stride onto Millennium Bridge. Burning Catherine wheels glower from the riverside as a wall of heat envelops me. I enter a world of scorching metal structures, cascading candles and endless flickering flowerpots scattered haphazardly around the grounds. There’s also swings and spindly metal men on bicycles balancing pots of fire along a trapeze.
My favourite exhibit is the ethereal vests which are suspended from coat hangers. Fluttering in the smoke-filled breeze, they take on a life of their own as if about to dance in a carefully choreographed routine.
Heading back over the Thames to the tube, the sky is suddenly lit up by the cascading colours illuminating the dome of St Paul’s. From sizzling oranges and reds to glowering blues and purples, the effect is mesmerising. The City has come a long way since the Great Fire and the London’s burning celebrations are testament to the strength of the human spirit, which can never be extinguished.
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