A festival of arts and ideas, inspired by the Great Fire of London

One spark, and everything changed

 

A contemporary perspective on a major moment in history. For London’s Burning, Artichoke invited artists and academics to respond to the Great Fire and consider the modern threats faced by the world cities today: from climate change to conflict. The festival ranged from ambitious interactive artworks that swept through the City, to unique performances and a talks programme.

An audience of tens of thousands watched on the banks of the river, while hundreds of thousands more tuned in to watch the burn streamed live online, as part of a commission by The Space hosted by Lauren Laverne and broadcast on YouTube and Facebook.

Supported by founding sponsor the City of London Corporation with an award from Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme.

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90,500

Total live audience across festival

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£2.5 million

Economic impact

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356

Volunteers for Dominoes

Community participants icon

701

Young Londoners involved in London 1666

Artists

Artists

Compagnie Carabosse

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David Best

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Early Morning Opera

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Martin Firrell

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Station House Opera

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Stan’s Cafe

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Timeline

London’s Burning: How we made it happen

Our large-scale projects require a huge amount of planning, fundraising and collaboration with city councils and emergency departments

  1. A painting of buildings on fire. Flames ruse above the rooftops
    The idea
  2. Towers and skyscrapers in The City of London on the riverside on a sunny day
    Research and development
  3. Skyline view of the
    Target to raise £3 million
  4. Photo of the streets of London taken from overhead in a helicopter.
    Sponsorship research
  5. London's Burning logo
    The brand
  6. A child's writing on a piece of paper
    The local community
  7. Purple mechanical spider in a crowd of people
    Arts Council England funding
  8. Exchange House, Broadgate. A grassy area in front of a large modern building black
    Site visits with artists
  9. The Space logo
    The Space
  10. A red London bus passing through a street of skyscrapers in central London
    Site permission negotiations
  11. Imagery of flames projected onto the roof of St Pauls Cathedral
    Artworks commissioned
  12. Close-up of two people shaking hands.
    Paul Hamlyn support
  13. Upward view of sky scrapers office blocks in a central city with blue sky and light cloud behind
    First corporate sponsor on board
  14. Close-up of the arched doorway of a red brick building- Brigade Bar and Bistro in The Fire Station
    Cultivation dinner at The Fire Station
  15. Light bulb on a blackboard with a thinking bubble drawn around it.
    Change fundraising strategy
  16. Fire Garden, Compagnie Carabosse, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews
    Final breakthrough funding
  17. The flytower of the National Theatre in London with the words
    Press campaign begins
  18. Artichoke's Director, Helen Marriage wearing a white shirt and being interviewed on camera by a woman with dark hair in a purple top
    Planning and creating digital content
  19. London 1666 participants working on carpentry
    Workshops begin
  20. A volunteers arranging breezeblocks into a row like dominoes
    Recruit volunteers
  21. London 1666 build
  22. School children holding up drawings in a workshop
    Participation project exhibition
  23. London 1666 transported to Royal Docks
  24. Holoscenes, Early Morning Opera, a MAPP International project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews
    Water tank in Exchange Square
  25. Test projection of Fires of London: orange, yellow and purple squares of light projected onto the dome of St Paul's Cathedral
    Testing at St Paul’s Cathedral
  26. Dark view out onto the Thames from behind the wheel of a boat.
    London 1666 travels down the Thames
  27. Wooden London 1666 structure atop a boat on the River Thames
    Art on the Embankment
  28. Dominoes, Station House Opera, an Artsadmin project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Oliver Rudkin
    Live Event
  29. Volunteers dressed in black Tshirts with the words, 'Dominoes' standing behind a row of white breeze blocks
    Dominoes
  30. The burn
  31. Via of St Paul's Cathedral across the river on a bright day in central London,
    De-installation and evaluation
London 1666 participants and artist David Best holding up wooden numbers which say
London 1666, David Best, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews

"These curated events and live art happenings don't so much teach us about the events of the past, but enable us to take stock of what's happening right now in the world, and challenge us to change for the future."

~ The Arts Desk ~

Of All The People In All the World, Stan's Cafe

Of All the People in All the World drew parallels between past and present, changing our understanding of a historic event.

Audiences watching and as someone is measuring out grains of rice to create a pile for the installation
Of All The People In All The World, Stan's Cafe, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photograph by Matthew Andrews

Audiences in the Inner Temple were moved by Of All The People In All the World. This powerful performance piece used 112 tonnes of rice to bring abstract human statistics from the past and the present to life.

On arrival visitors were each presented with a single grain of rice, representing themselves. The rice was then carefully weighed and arranged in labelled piles by a team of performers, creating an ever-changing landscape of statistics. Visitors were also invited to suggest new statistics for inclusion in the performance.

Dominoes, Station House Opera

Thousands of breezeblocks were used to create a moving sculpture, which traced the original paths of The Great Fire of London over the course of a day.

Breezeblocks built into a structure outside of the Barbican
Dominoes, Station House Opera, an Artsadmin project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Oliver Rudkin

Staffed by volunteers, 23,000 breezeblocks were set up starting from where the fire began in 1666 at Monument and snaked through The City of London before splitting in three directions at Bank and culminating in tree spectacular fiery finales at Paternoster Square, The Gherkin and The Barbican.

Dominoes used a simple concept to create an alternative vision of the city. The installation complemented and played with the architecture of contemporary London and for a brief moment, reclaimed the city streets for the public.

First commissioned by Create London in 2009, Dominoes has travelled to 16 different countries since including Copenhagen, Marseille, Ljublijana and Melbourne.

A volunteers arranging breezeblocks into a row like dominoes
Dominoes, Station House Opera, an Artsadmin project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews

“A great multi-talented team came together to create an amazing domino road to mark the route of The Great Fire of London raced through the city. It was an amazing buzz when our creation fell as planned after faultless preparation. I would do it all again!”

~ Dominoes Volunteer, Team London ~
a Helix shaped structure with a small pot lit up into a flame at each end of the helix form
Dominoes, Station House Opera, an Artsadmin project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews

Thousands enjoyed the spitting, crackling Fire Garden installation by Compagnie Carabosse, which was displayed in riverside lawn of Tate Modern with views across The City and St Paul’s.   

The garden of the Tate was transformed into an after-dark adventure inspired by the little-known Great Fire of Southwark in 1212. 

Live music performances in a flickering garden of burning metal structures, mechanical fire pits and flaming flowerpots honoured the lesser-known fires of London’s history.

Holoscenes, Early Morning Opera

mesmerising 6-hour underwater performance by Early Morning Opera which examined our fraught relationship with water in the 21st century.

Holoscenes, Early Morning Opera

Woman in a red dress and man in a suit in a clear cube tank filled with water
Holoscenes, Early Morning Opera, a MAPP International project, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350, September 2016. Photo by Matthew Andrews

At Exchange Square in Broadgate, a giant aquarium filled with 3,500 gallons of water. The rotating cast of performers within it acted out everyday tasks such as drinking coffee, cleaning and reading the newspaper. This mesmerising live artwork weaved the story of water — the rising seas, melting glaciers, intensifying floods and droughts — into the patterns of the everyday.

Holoscenes reminded us that climate-induced flooding is one of the biggest and most urgent threats we’re facing today. The ebb and flow of water and resulting transfiguration of human behaviour offers a portrait of our collective persistence, and, for both better and worse, adaptation.

Fires of London, Martin Firrell

Two new commissions by Martin Firrell were exhibited simultaneously either side of the River Thames.

Fires Modern, Martin Firrell

Fires of London - Fires Modern, Martin Firrell, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews

The second of two new commissions by Martin Firrell was projected onto the fly-tower of the National Theatre.

Fires Modern was a powerful celebration of the stories of resurgence and social change through history that have shaped modern London and the landmark moments that have created the open and diverse city we enjoy today.

The projection displayed 18 stories of injustice and inequality through the ages from black history, the women’s movement and LGBT equality to the protests against Clause 28 and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Fires Ancient, Martin Firrell

Imagery of flames projected onto the roof of St Pauls Cathedral
Fires of London - Fires Ancient, Martin Firrell, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews

Fires Ancient engulfed the South and East faces of the dome in a 180-degree projection of flickering flames changing from dull orange to yellow to blue to brilliant white.

The work aimed to create a visual ‘echo’ of the fire that destroyed the original cathedral building and the birth of the current building designed by Christopher Wren that emerged, phoenix-like from the ashes.

Fires Ancient referenced both the beauty and the destructive power of fire, and the creative potential released by trauma. Without the Great Fire of London, there would be no modern London and as we understand it, and Wren’s beautiful and iconic cathedral building would not exist.

“I wanted to show how good things can come out of bad – Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral came out of the devastation of the Great Fire. Civil liberties have been won through the actions and courage of historical figures like the Suffragettes and contemporary figures like Peter Tatchell and Doreen Lawrence. Telling these stories on the iconic Modernist building of the National Theatre feels fitting and important.”  ~ Artist, Martin Firrell

London 1666: Watch the burn

London 1666 burns on the River Thames, 2016. 

London 1666, David Best

David Best, early sketch of London 1666
David Best, early sketch of London 1666

The festival drew to a spectacular close on Sunday 4th September, as London 1666, a 120-metre-long wooden sculpture of the 17th century London skyline was set alight on the River Thames.

An audience of over 50,000 watched on the banks of the river, while hundreds of thousands more tuned in to watch the burn streamed live online, as part of a commission by The Space hosted by Lauren Laverne and broadcast on YouTube and Facebook.

London 1666 was designed and built by David Best and his team in collaboration with Artichoke

Artichoke first commissioned Best to build a temple, similar to his Burning Man structures, in Derry~Londonderry, which was historically, home to some of the worst violence of Northern Ireland’s conflict.

When Artichoke worked with Best on the Derry temple, we talked about the anger between communities elsewhere, including London, and how they might possibly be reconciled. The aim of the London’s Burning festival was not just to relive the horror, but to reflect: on how the fire shaped the London we know now and to recognise the problems that face the city centuries on – not least, when parts of the city were in flames during the riots of 2011.

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6

Schools in London Boroughs engaged

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50,000

Live audience for London 1666

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6.7 million

Viewers of London 1666 film

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#LondonsBurning

No. 1 trending hashtag on Twitter

London 1666 was brought to life by young Londoners

London 1666 participants and artist David Best holding up wooden numbers which say
London 1666, Work in progress, designed by David Best in collaboration with Artichoke, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Photo by Matthew Andrews

London 1666 involved months of learning and participation work with young people across several boroughs adjacent to The City of London: Camden, Hackney, Islington, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets.

School children aged 5-7 took part in integrated drawing and history workshops. They learned about the Great Fire and drew their hopes and dreams for a future London. These pictures were transformed into laser-cut wooden panels which were then assembled to  120-metre long structure on the river.

16-24 year olds not in education, employment or training were given life-changing skills and experience. They trained in construction, working on the actual structure to gain a CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) certificate. Working on the build offered them an introduction to the construction and creative industries, further education or employment, and a legacy of skills.

London 1666 participants working on carpentry
London 1666, Work in progress, designed by David Best in collaboration with Artichoke, London’s Burning, a festival of arts and ideas for Great Fire 350. Photo by Matthew Andrews

"This project has given me confidence to go into the outside world and be a strong person, being able to think by myself, to fix things together, to be a teacher and not just be smart. You have to share your experience with people."

~ Fifi, young participant for London 1666 ~

London 1666: Stories Behind the Build

Behind the scenes at the build of London 1666, 2016. 

Listen to the London's Burning Podcast

From historic sites, buildings that survived the Blitz and some of the City’s best-loved pubs, the London’s Burning talks programme explored how cities past and present have responded to crisis. 

 

Art and Crisis

Three speakers explore the use of art to respond to issues impacting the world today.

Artichoke Director Helen Marriage

Artist Lars Jan, Director of Holoscenes

Judith Knight, former co-Director of Artsadmin

Holoscenes, Early Morning Opera. Photo by Matthew Andrews

The City from Above: The Great Fire in Verse

At the top of The Monument in The City of London, actor Simon Callow reads extras from John Dryden’s poem, Annus Mirabilis and reflects on life in London 1666.

The Monument. Photo by City of London Corporation

When things go wrong: 21st century responses to world trauma

Recorded at the Barbican and hosted by 5×15’s Eleanor O’Keeffe. Three speakers discuss 21st century responses to world trauma.

Dr John Drury, Deputy Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange (Impact) in the University of Sussex’s School of Psychology.

Philip Collins, Times columnist, academic, banker and speechwriter.

Elif Shafak, award-winning novelist and Turkey’s most-read woman writer.

The Barbican, London

Temple

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