Noor Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

17th February 2023

Noor Riyadh returned for its second edition in November, bringing more than 120 installations and light artworks to the Saudi capital.

Following the success of its inaugural edition in 2021, Noor Riyadh returned to the Saudi Arabia capital for a mammoth celebration of light and art.

Almost tripling in size from the debut event, the festival launched on 3 November, with over 120 installations by more than 100 artists from across 40 countries, on view across 40 locations.

Built around the theme We Dream of New Horizons, the two-week festival was accompanied by a three-month art exhibition, From Spark to Spirit (open from 3 November 2022 to 4 February 2023) and dynamic public programme.

As one of the world’s most ambitious festivals of its kind, organisers of Noor Riyadh hoped to transform the city into a dazzling, night-time “gallery without walls”, across the largest city footprint of any light art festival worldwide.

The theme of We Dream of New Horizons responded to a motif that is both literal and metaphorical in meaning, alluding to the distant glow of sunrise or sunset, and the shining light of our dreams, with a sense of hopefulness for the future inherent in the phrase. Its connotations are positive, optimistic, and reflective of a confidence in renewal and transformation. Through a sense of wonder, the artists explored the use of illumination, luminosity, and their own encounters with materials as staging relations to otherness and hope in the form of light.

Co-curated by Hervé Mikaeloff, Dorothy Di Stefano and Jumana Ghouth, the second edition of Noor Riyadh saw many renowned names in light art unite with an expanding roster of emerging and established local artists. These artworks and installations illuminated 40 citywide locations, showcasing immersive site-specific installations, monumental public artworks, ephemeral sculptures, art trails, virtual reality, building projections and drone shows.

International artists showcasing installations included names such as Daan Roosegaarde, who brought his popular Waterlicht piece – an immersive installation that encompasses a dream landscape about the power and poetry of water with an ecological message – to Riyadh’s Salam Park. Elsewhere in Salam Park, Eness drew inspiration from formal civic fountains and classical statues in Cupid’s Koi Garden, the world’s first inflatable fountain.

Other notable artworks included The Garden of Light by Charles Sandison – a video projection in the Diplomatic Quarter hub that investigates the virtual horizon created between history and the digital world. Elsewhere, Grimanesa Amorós’ Amplexus light sculpture radiated light through the air, enveloping and embracing the architecture, space and viewer.

Christopher Bauder, founder and creative director of WHITEvoid, who collaborated with musician and composer Strahil Velchev to produce Axion, a large-scale installation inspired by a hypothetical elementary particle that, if it exists, might be a component of the dark matter that cosmologists believe makes up 95% of the universe.

At King Abdullah Financial District, Asaad Badawi’s Chasing the Sun showcased brightly coloured fibreglass shapes that conjure planetary motions. On a similar theme of ingenuity, multidisciplinary artist Zahra Bundakji created a sound portrait of women who have shaped and supported dancefloors in Saudi Arabia, supported by the universal symbol of dance culture, the disco ball. The work, entitled The Voice of Listening, was situated in the JAX District.

Elsewhere, a nightly laser show was performed in central Riyadh that united Kingdom Tower, Faisaliah Tower and Majdoul Tower. The show, entitled Pulse of Light, was created by Yann Kersalé, in collaboration with show director Martin Arnaud. The performance was accompanied by music from Grammy award-winning artist Zedd.

Another highlight came with Marc Brickman’s drone show at King Abdullah Park. Artist in residence at the Empire State Building in 2020, Brickman brought two aerial light installations – The Order of Chaos: Chaos in Order, featuring a swarm of 2,000 drones; and K A L E I D O S C O P E, which explored the absurdity of human constriction through technology, and featured an interactive element in its choreography.

Other international artists showcasing installations included Pauline David (Pavilion of Moonlight Horizon), Daniel Buren (Le Ciel Coloré et Projeté), Shohei Fujimoto (Intangible #form), Douglas Gordon (299792458 M/S), Tadashi Kawamata (Nests in Riyadh), Arne Quinze (Oasis), teamLab (Waves of Light), SpY (Earth, 2021) and Jean-Michel Othoniel (Yardang).

Speaking on the conclusion of the citywide installations, Riyadh Art Program Executive Director, Khaled Al-Hazani said: “We are delighted that Noor Riyadh has created unique moments of joy across the city, nurtured artistic talent and delivered awe-inspiring immersive experiences, providing visitors with an opportunity to appreciate world-class light artworks and rediscover the city of Riyadh in a new light.

“We look forward to bringing together a global community of visitors to Noor Riyadh’s accompanying exhibition and shedding light on the artists, curators and community engagement initiatives enriching Riyadh’s thriving art and culture landscape.”

The festival’s accompanying exhibition, entitled From Spark to Spirit was curated by Neville Wakefield and Gaida AlMogren. The exhibition traced the role that light plays in shaping our relationship to a world in which light itself has become a signal of change, exploring themes such as ‘Technologies of Light’, ‘Architectonics of Light’, and ‘Consciousness of Light’.

Just as the Light and Space Movement, which began in California in the 1960s, reflected changes in the established order, this exhibition explored a landscape of light inflected by the rapid cultural transformations shaping the Middle East. While the exhibition acknowledged the histories that have been shaped by the experience of West Coast America, and the West in general, the show was structured as a cultural dialogue.

Neville Wakefield, lead curator, said: “As explored in From Spark to Spirit, it is evident that light in this world can be seen as an integral means of communication. We are now connected to each other by screens – by the light of information. We communicate with one another through the direct manipulation of light to form words and images that together map a collective consciousness, bringing us together in an era of rapid technological and cultural transformation.”

The festival also included a programme of more than 500 special activities, from tours to talks, workshops, family activities and music, some of which were available online and via an event app, opening the experience up to a wider audience.

Al-Hazani added: “Noor Riyadh is a big part of plans to creatively transform the Kingdom’s capital into a vibrant and cosmopolitan global city, through arts and culture. Supported by Riyadh Art, Noor Riyadh’s parent body, it features public artworks and diverse community activities that provide enriching art experiences that bring together local communities, from families to artists, students, professionals and more, with international audiences fro across the globe.”

Amplexus (Image: Amorós Studio)