Northern lights

Most eyes will be on Liverpool as the European Capital of Culture 2008, but the home of The Beatles in fact shares the honours with Norway’s fourth city, Stavanger. As local residents enjoy only an hour’s sunlight per day in January, one major attraction will be Watercolours, a festival of lighting installations, designed by hip Norwegian architectural practice Snøhetta, working with German performance art company Phase 7. If this sounds an unusual collaboration, the project is intended to dramatise some of the drabber parts of Stavanger’s twin town, Sandnes, turning the winter darkness into a theatrical backdrop for people ‘to observe and be observed’. Not only will these glowing illuminations instil a sense of fanfare around the bus station and the pedestrian underpasses running beneath the town’s railway line; others will outline the majestic topography of the Gansfjord, whose mountains and frozen depths rise up out of the town. Many of the features will be interactive: as you cross the square in central Sandnes, your footsteps will light up behind you. Another visual centrepiece will reveal the movement of the usually culverted Storånå river. Following Snøhetta’s star turns with the 2007 Serpentine Pavilion in London, and Norway’s new opera house, this promises to be urban lighting at its finest, bringing warmth to the icy Nordic winter. New elements will be unveiled throughout the project’s year-long phase, growing and changing as the daylight returns. Why not catch a boat across the North Sea and banish your winter blues?

Watercolours opens on 11 January in Sandnes, Norway, during the launch of Stavanger Capital of Culture 2008

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