by Dilpreet BhullarMar 25, 2023
The first ray of light in the sky determines the metaphysical and supernatural meaning behind it, with the presence of a halo or divine light, within a theological discipline, inevitably, an extension of sacred disposition. As such, the architecture embodied in sacred spaces is often dotted with mirrors and windows, playing with the singular perception of engaging the devotee to light’s multifarious perspectives. In the same vein, the presence of light in arts pushes viewers to look beyond, seeing the unseen. As a streak of light ushers within an architectural space or an open domain, it anchors an experiential transformation. With a promise to offer such a seamless visceral experience to the audience, the exhibition From Spark to Spirit at JAX 03 (JAX District), Riyadh, a part of the Noor Riyadh festival, is constructed as a dialogue between light and illumination, in both literal and figurative sense. Following the success of the previous Noor Riyadh festival, the current edition, with the theme We Dream of New Horizons, has been ambitious enough to increase its scale by almost triple, including around 120 installations by over 100 artists, from more than 40 countries, on view across 40 locations.
Neville Wakefield (lead curator) and Gaida Al Mogren (associate curator) have curated the art exhibition. In an interview with STIR, the lead curator of the exhibition informs, “The exhibition is narrated as a three-part journey that explores the technology and architectonics of light and its role in the shaping of consciousness. It was interesting to think about the origins of the light and space movement in California and compare that era when artists started incorporating materials and technologies from the aerospace industries in their art and how digital technology is reshaping the contemporary landscape in similar ways.”
In the 21stcentury, Wakefield mentions light is information; in order words, it is ‘ink.’ The exhibition is an attempt to explore and reflect on these kinds of transitions and particularly the role the emergent generation of artists in the Middle East and elsewhere, who have played a significant role in shifting the frontiers of this landscape from material to immaterial. In a similar vein, it is an exploration of the themes including the ‘Technologies of Light’, ‘Architectonics of Light’ and ‘Consciousness of Light’.
The element of light and space movement, especially in California, USA, of the 1960s, decentralised the “established order” of systems. The exhibition does not shy away from accepting the power of these movements in bringing about a change, and history first being witnessed in West Coast America and the West, largely. Yet, at the core of From Spark to Spirit is the need to develop a cultural dialogue amongst the participating artists, such as—Doug Aitken, Zahrah Al Ghamdi, Refik Anadol, Larry Bell, Jim Campbell, John Edmark, Walaa Fadul, Lina Gazzaz, Phillip K. Smith III and Haroon Mirza. Towards this end, the exhibition traces the swift cultural transformation that is shaping the Middle East.
The immersive exhibition organised under the umbrella of Noor Riyadh festival strives to build community engagement and encourage an inclusive culture. The global spirit of the festival as well as the exhibition is a walk towards Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals of—a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. The exhibition is just one component of a citywide festival of light and art. In the words of Wakefield, “It forms part of a three-way dialogue that takes place between the exhibition, the public realm artwork sited in different locations around the city, and, of course, the lights of the city. Like Los Angeles, Riyadh is a ‘city of light’ defined by the kinetic luminosity of cars and traffic circulating the static waypoints of illuminated architecture. Noor Riyadh encourages you to traverse the micro and the macro with the passages between the interior spaces of the exhibition and public works shaped by the organism of light that is the city itself.”
Given the scale of the exhibition, acute attention has been given to sustainability in the exhibition space and its future contribution to the art ecosystem being built around the venue of the exhibition. JAX District space is repurposed architecture, and care has been taken to create an adaptable space with modular walls that can easily evolve to future needs.
Wakefield hopes the exhibition inspires greater curiosity; philosophically in terms of the role light plays in our perception of the world, socially as to how artists play the role of thought leaders and innovators in our understanding of these issues and perhaps, most importantly, as an inspiration to others to also find new horizons.
The exhibition ’From Spark to Spirit’ is on display at the JAX 03 (JAX District), Riyadh, until February 4, 2023.