Geneva decks its halls for Christmas with inspired works of visual poetry

WHEN it comes to decking its halls for Christmas, Geneva commissions artistic installations that never fail to distinguish the city as one that celebrates this special time of year in an original and often inspired way.

Again this year, the city has decorated its squares, streets, and bridges with the same magical installations that so captivated its citizens in 2014, but with a few changes. The physallis lamps previously found at Place Longemalle are now nestled amongst the majestic trees in the Jardin Anglais where they’ll no doubt cast a very mysterious spell over the surroundings.

There’s also a new, eye-popping installation in Place Cornavin above the small wooden chalets that make up that area’s modest outdoor Christmas market (there are other noteworthy Christmas markets elsewhere in the city, particularly the lovely outdoor market in Carouge).

To find out more about the illuminations and to see a video of the Geneva Lux Christmas Festival of Lights, please read my last year’s blog post and follow the links below:

Geneva Lux Festival of Lights

For 2014, the “Geneva Lux” Festival of Lights, as this annual event is known, focuses on the city’s downtown core at three prime locations: the TPG transport hub at Place Bel Air; the cobblestoned plaza at Place Longemalle (in 2015 at the Jardin Anglais); and the landmark Ile Rousseau, accesible via Pont des Bergues, itself beautifully lit up as night falls.

In addition, the elegant shopping street rue du Rhône has been transformed into a virtual “Milky Way” by Swiss artist Daniel Schlaepfer.

Ghostly voyageurs at Place Bel Air

A ghostly voyageur: equally mesmerizing in daylight as in darkness.
Ghostly figures atop a canopy (l) and floating above water (r). 

At Place Bel Air, the city’s main downtown hub for buses and trams, French artist Cédric Le Borgne’s “Les Voyageurs”, wire mesh figures illuminated at night and barely visible by day, provide a subtle link between earth and sky, between fantasy and reality.

At this very busy urban intersection, harried passers-by are invited to see life interpreted, if only momentarily, in a new and magical way and to step out of their daily reality into a hauntingly beautiful dreamscape.

A temple of light and sound at Ile Rousseau

Fibre-optic “furins” flutter and chime in the wind on Ile Rousseau.
Illuminated “furins” transform the island into a magical temple.

Binding sound with light, “Poetry of the East, Light of the West” is an eerie installation at Ile Rousseau by Lyonnais artist Sébastien Lefèvre that evokes the poetry of furins, tiny Japanese bells from which traditionally are hung rectangles of paper inscribed with haïkus (poems).

In this modern but no less spiritual evocation, pieces of fibre optic fabric — pure white in daylight and shimmering with colour at night — hang from 1500 bells that softly chime in the breeze that usually sweeps across this small island. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself on a Tibetan mountaintop where prayer flags inscribed with mantras flutter in the wind.

Physalis lanterns at Place Longemalle

Stainless steel “physalis” lamps reveal their skeletal structure above Place Longemalle. 
In the evening, “cocoons” cast soft, geometric shapes on the cobblestones.

When during daylight hours I first saw these imposing mechanical structures at Place Longemalle, they brought to mind the man-eating plant featured in the film “The Little Shop of Horrors”. After all, they are modelled after a plant, the physallis, which protects its fruit in a closed ‘chalice’ that with the changing seasons transforms into a fossil of its former self.

Any allusions to aggressive behaviour end as the sun sets. As the lamps are lit they become what their creator, the French artist Gaspard Lautrey, intended: maternal cocoons projecting gentle geometric shapes onto the cobblestones below. Less Little Shop of Horrors, more American in Paris romantic and ethereal. At least in my imagination.

I’ve heard many expats say that Geneva doesn’t go all out with its Christmas decorations in the same way cities in America and UK do and that’s probably true. But it has found its own unique and original way of celebrating this special season in ways that are magical and memorable, too.

The Geneva Lux Festival continues until mid-January 2016.

All photos by Creative Living Geneva.

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