Jerusalem becomes the City of Light

Gaston Zahr, one of the artistic directors of the Light Festival in Jerusalem, doesn’t have a favorite piece among the over thirty pieces of light art on display this year in the Old City.

“I like them all because they are [each] very different [from each other],” Zahr told The Jerusalem Post during a press tour on Wednesday night, the opening night of the festival. “I think what unites them this year is that all of them have a big impact. They are not small installations.” He cited the interactive and immersive elements of some of the pieces – including performance art by actresses in illuminated costumes and a large dome made of lit-up triangles, which people can enter – and believes that “all of them are beautiful.”

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For the tenth year in a row, the Light Festival in Jerusalem is shining through the Old City and nearby Jaffa Street every night (except Friday night) until July 5th.

The festival is jointly run by the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority, and the Ariel Municipal Company. “This year is unique for Jerusalem… a year in which Jerusalem is definitely on the international map,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a release promoting the festival. “The festival celebrates a successful decade of millions of visitors coming to visit [the city], from its position as a capital of international culture.”

Both veteran and student artists are displaying their work at the festival. Artists who have contributed exhibits hail from Israel and ten other countries, including Germany, China, and the Philippines.

Among the Israeli artists are students taking a Light Festival-focused course at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

Zahr said that the festival, which he co-directs with Meirav Eitan, took eight months to develop, and that artists were found and chosen through open calls, direct invitations, and visits to other light festivals around the world. Pieces were chosen by a jury based on budget, feasibility, and appropriateness for Jerusalem, among other factors.

During the festival’s opening night, Israelis and foreign tourists inundated the Old City, interacting with the artwork and enjoying the festival. A festival representative told reporters that touring the entire festival could take up to four hours or more.

Arvin Quiwa, from the Philippines, designed and led the production of the Giant Lantern on display in Gan HaBonim A, along the wall of the Old City adjacent to Jaffa Gate. Quiwa told reporters that the flower-shaped lantern, filled with ornate patterns and swirls, was inspired by the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men in the Christian narrative of the birth of Jesus.

This sort of lantern is used in Christmas celebrations in the Philippines, Quiwa explained, and he has been proactive about showing it off elsewhere: “I want to exhibit our artwork, the Filipino artwork; this giant lantern, to other countries. We’ve been, last year, to Singapore and Honolulu… to exhibit our artwork, so other countries will know that we have this kind of lantern and light piece.” He said that they planned on exhibiting in Jerusalem after the Light Festival reached out to the Philippines’ department of tourism; the lantern itself took two months to make.

FURTHER DOWN the wall toward Zion Gate, festival-goers wove their way through “Affinity,” a structure made of lit-up glass spheres connecting by diagonal pipes, and when someone touched a sphere, it lit up more and sent light up the connecting pipes.

“[‘Affinity’ is] inspired by the human brain and the connectivity in the brain,” Simone Chua, one of the lead artists of the exhibit, told the Post. She said the structure, constructed from 18 spheres – which represent the brain’s neurons – and 62 connecting pipes, took around eight months to create.

“The idea of [‘Affinity’] is that it engages a large amount of people. They interact with the work, and they interact with one another,” she said. “As people touch [the neurons]… it lights up, and the light travels throughout the brain… representing their memories, which are traveling through the network, through the brain.”

Nearby, the path overlooking the Valley of Hinnom was lined by 40 statues of people made from steel wire, including knights, nuns, and even a cupid suspended in midair.

As festival-goers got up close with the figures, they noticed them glowing in ultraviolet light projected from nearby, making the sculptures appear to be ghosts frozen in place.

The installation’s Alexander Reichstein, from Finland, says this installation – aptly titled “Ghostly Guests” – has been displayed in other countries already, but the makeup of the sculptures varies from place to place. “It depends a lot on the environment and on the history of the place, because [the installation] has connections to history,” Reichstein told the Post.

“The installation is a kind of timeline, [showing] ghosts from different times and different places.”

Because of Jerusalem’s long history, he said, he had to come up with a long lineup of “ghosts” and crafted some new site-specific sculptures, including one of a rabbi.

Reichstein said he has lost track of how many hours he has spent on this project, but that it has been in the works for three years. He compared the artistic process to “drawing in 3D… something in between graphics and sculpture.

The final installation shown to reporters on the press tour, “Rainbow,” was a massive display of colorful patterns and animations projected onto one of the walls of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. The projection, accompanied by a cinematic soundtrack, was digitally mapped to precisely fit the outline of the building. The projection cycled through ornate patterns “drawn” onto the building and painting-like illustrations of skies, seascapes, and even a cherry blossom tree in bloom. The building itself at points – including its domed roof, which was also part of the “canvas” – seemed to be in motion, to the delight of the festival goers who crowded through the square.

“Rainbow” was designed by Visualsupport, a Polish company that specializes in multimedia services.

Chris Mazua, who helped design and run the projection, told the Post that the projection took two months to design and set up. “First we took a photo of the building, and then the graphic [artists] were preparing art… After art was prepared, we came here [to Hurva Square], and [during] the last two nights I was sitting here and fitting these graphics to the building.”

Mazua emphasizes the motif of color as integral to the projection: “[We] tried to show that [the] colors all around us are great, and [that] the world is made of colors.”