From Spark to Spirit, the new exhibition taking place in Riyadh's Jax District, is a tribute to light and all of its hypnotic, illuminating and deceptive potential.
It brings together works by 30 artists from Saudi Arabia and the world, segmented into three themed spaces — Technologies of Light, Architectonics of Light and Consciousness of Light.
The show opened at Jax 03 art studio on Thursday as part of Noor Riyadh and will run until February. It's title is a nod to the progression of themes, beginning with the technological fabrication of light and moving towards its more ineffable and symbolic properties, says Gaida AlMogren, who curated the show with art critic Neville Wakefield.
“We had this idea of a journey across these three zones,” AlMogren says. “Some of the artists fit perfectly with that concept right from the beginning. We wanted to have established and emerging artists as well, to have a dialogue between the generations, as well as the international and the local.”
The exhibition begins with a pair of artworks that juxtapose the analog and digital elements of light. US-Puerto Rican artist Gisela Colon's Rectanguloid encapsulates in acrylic the harmonisation of light and colour — responding to how lightning affects the environment and the vantage point of the viewer. Soft Encounters, meanwhile, by Malaysian artist Jason Ting, is a regenerative NFT piece that draws inspiration from the waters along the Californian coast where the artist grew up.
Elsewhere, Saudi artist Moath Alofi presents a sprawling installation that depicts one of Saudi Arabia’s 2,000 dormant volcanoes, while contemplating light as energy. The work, entitled Thnan, is named after one of the oldest lava fields in the kingdom.
“It’s almost five million years old,” Alofi says. “Sometimes light and hope come from different sources and volcanoes can be one inspiration.”
Light Into Idea, a collection of 15 abstract glass pieces on a steel surface by Saudi artist Lina Gazzaz, touches upon light's fleeting nature. The concept of the installation also incorporates elements of quantum physics, whereby the observer and the system being viewed are inexplicably intertwined.
“The idea is inspired by a verse in the Quran that describes physical light and inner light," Gazzaz says. "It is also related to the study of the properties of light according to quantum physics, as well as its behaviour.
“According to visual mechanics, the brain sees things a little bit later, and according to quantum physics, there is an invisible layer of the universe that doesn’t reveal itself and that is what I was trying to capture.”
British artist Haroon Mirza’s installation Energy for the Sake of Power (Solar Symphony 16) is an artistic manifestation of a Dyson Sphere, a theoretical photovoltaic megastructure that encompasses a star. Solar panels surround a set of halogen lights to illuminate shrubs of Syrian rue and promote its growth and photosynthesis.
The Architectonics of Light section opens with a set of five surreal, animated sculptures that spin under strobe lights, such as with the piece Blooms by US artist John Edmark.
“He’s a Stanford research scientist,” curator Wakefield says of the artist. “The sculptures are 3D-printed forms that are rotating at about 2,500rpm with a strobe above them. What the strobe does is transform this high-speed movement into these patterns that you’ll find in nature. Within these movements, you’ll observe these Fibonacci sequences as well as other mathematical moments.”
Larry Bell, an artist belonging to the 1960s Los Angeles Light and Space art movement, is also featured at the exhibition with his installation The Blue Gate. The artwork is part of his Deconstructed Cube series and presents two cubes, one within the other, that leaves a wedge-shaped opening on the outer structure to induce an interplay of light and shadow. The work is juxtaposed with two others by artists from the same movement — Phillip K Smith III and Jim Campbell.
The inclusion of the three artists within the exhibition is meant to draw parallels between how artists were engaging with technology to create work in California in the latter part of the 20th century, with the same creative bloom currently sweeping the Gulf.
“They were interacting with the technology at the time, which was mainly aerospace technology,” Wakefield says. “Here and now, we have young artists in the Middle East who are responding to different forms of technology, mainly digital technology. At that time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, California was also undergoing a great social change. There are many parallels.”
The works in the final section fall under the theme Consciousness of Light, inspiring visitors to contemplate themselves and the world in new ways.
The opening piece is Theories of Imagination by Bahraini artists Noor Alwan and Abdulla Buhijji. It features large rotating light boxes, each of which dim to reveal a mirror when people are standing on either side of it.
“The work looks into the essence of empathy and collaboration between two people,” Alwan says. “There are different layers of the installation. You can experience it on your own, where you can curate your own journey along the different sides.
"The ultimate experience, however, is when two people collaborate and stand opposite each other. The light boxes turn to mirrors. The agency of such a personal act as looking at yourself in the mirror is taken away and can only be achieved by collaboration.”
Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade’s Heavy Light, meanwhile, prompts existential thoughts through its imposing overhead dance between a suspended lightbulb and 100-kilogram stone, which rotate opposite each other in perfect sync.
“It is a simple but complicated work,” Wakefield says. “It opens up conversations between fragility and weight. It makes us think about our place in the world and how we exist.”
The final artwork in the exhibition is The River by US artist Doug Aitken. It's a sculpture featuring three resin figures standing on a desertscape and leaning forward with their foreheads in contact. Soft light circulates the figures until it lights up all three of them.
“Light is life and it’s an interesting depiction of how ideas connect and change the world,” Wakefield says. “There’s this question whether the digital world really brings us together or separates us. Aitken has created this tableau of figures that are connected physically and also by these pulses of light.”
From Spark to Spirit is on display in Riyadh until February. More information is available at www.riyadhart.sa