On the Fall Equinox at Crystal Bridges something spectacular happened for some 500 people who had gathered near the illuminated sculpture, Buckyball, by artist Leo Villareal. The crowd scored a clear night sky, and the full moon appeared just to the left of the sculpture’s geodesic sphere, arising just in time for the first set of the futurist band, Fossils of Ancient Robots. The band played with the pulsating rhythms of the Buckyball’s LED lights as its backdrop, and the fans rocked to the climactic music of futuristic/ancient electro beats and lyrics. Bright spots of people decked in glow sticks created a spectrum of light punctuated with the spinning fire dancers of Violetta Lotus. Fifty illuminated bicyclists spilled into the downtown Bentonville streets to ride in a bright bling of whirling, glowing decorations, led by Phat Tire Bike Shop. The people danced relentlessly with the sphere and the Robot’s beats and visited artist Robert R. Norman’s community installation of fluorescent-painted sticks woven into a mini-sphere.
So, what moves us towards light? We all have our own answers. Leo Villareal likens the mesmerizing qualities of his Buckyball to the warmth of a fire—a “digital campfire” that has the capacity to draw viewers in for the sense of a communal experience. Today’s most famous festival of fire and art, Burning Man in the Nevada desert, harkens back to our original instincts with light—the power of fire, the sun, moon, and stars. For early humans, the making of fire brightened the dark and warmed us in the cold.
Across cultures and centuries, the idea of light became a metaphor for many. Aristotle once said, “it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Helen Keller would say “knowledge is love and light is vision.” Scientist Nikola Tesla said: “A single ray of light from a distant star falling upon the eye of a tyrant in bygone times may have altered the course of his life, may have changed the destiny of nations, may have transformed the surface of the globe, so intricate, so inconceivably complex are the processes in Nature.”
It took humans more than a millennium to manipulate fire, yet it would take us just a few centuries from Isaac Newton’s breakthrough understanding of light and color to move the exploration of light emissions into the mainstream! Thomas Edison’s manipulation of light and the moving image captivated our vision and our imaginations, hooking us into the dark of the movie theater.
The “Edison of France,” George Claudes, exhibited the first neon sign at the 1910 Paris Motorshow. Eventually Claudes would bring his neon to America, creating a sign for a Los Angeles car dealership reading “Packard” in 1923; and soon after, neon lighting became a popular fixture in outdoor advertising. Visible even in daylight, the first neon signs were dubbed “liquid fire,” and people would stop and stare. Soon we began to think of cities as places full of lights—like Las Vegas, Tokyo, and New York City; and to think of small town diners with large neon marquees as the hometown hot spot. (Check out this fun project that created a guide of found Neon Signs in NYC)
Artists begin to play with electric light as if it were their new paint brush. From Dan Flavin’s Greek columns of fluorescent tubes to James Turrell’s invention of experiential light rooms that have become increasingly popular in contemporary art with an installation at the Guggenheim and a retrospective at LACMA; and his massive earth work, the Roden Crater.
Crystal Bridges has jumped on this band-wave of light, as well—featuring a group exhibition called See the Light in our first year, and two large-scale light-centered artworks: The Way of Color, a Skyspace by James Turrell, as well as our recent artwork by Villareal.
So… it is safe to say that the Museum has an interest in light artworks, and we can continue to hold light parties as long as guests keeping moving towards the light!