Skyway 09 – International Light Festival in Torun, Poland – a report

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The report of curator Mário Caeiro about the first edition of SKYWAY.
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  1 IN TORUŃ, UNDER A SHARED SKY!SKYWAY ‘09 INTERNATIONAL LIGHT FESTIVALA CURATOR’S REPORT – SHORT EDITBy Mário Caeiro Oh God is playing marbles / With his planets and his starsCreating havoc in my life / With his influence on MarsBut now I’m stumbling down the highway / with my boots of steelI should be rolling down the skyway with my cosmic wheels DONOVANIntro SKYWAY ‘09 is a new International Light Festival, held in the Polish city of Toruń. The firstedition took place last August, taking advantage of a natural phenomenon, the Perseidmeteor shower, with art framing and being framed by this astronomical event. More than30 000 enthousiastic visitors filled the streets, experiencing the town center in a way thatshall be remembered for years to come. As Gazeta Wyborcza, the main referencenewspaper put it, ‘for that week, Toruń was like Florence or Seville, full of life!’.SKYWAY ‘09 delivered to Toruń a set of illuminating, engaged and engaging artinstallations and interventions by artists from nine different countries. Between the 11thand the 16th August, Toruń’s extraordinarily well preserved Gothic cityscape was the idealbackdrop for the experience of art works which managed to shed new light  ontomonuments and spaces. Sculptural presences, ephemeral architectural lighting, interactivedevices, multidisciplinary collaborations and socially engaged artistic intersections, all theprogramme related to Light in different ways, leading people to understand how light is afundamental tool in urban scenery, a crucial concept in science and a vital necessity forlife.In the framework of SKYWAY ‘09, light was thus both an artistic language and a culturalvalue, adequately working as an operative metaphor to cherish not only the Sky above us,but also all that is , the whole Universe. Differently from what happens in many otherEuropean cities hosting light and urban art events, in Toruń, birthplace of Copernicus, theSky’s not just a scenery, but a really meaningful and challenging presence up there,magical and powerful. That explains the reaction of one visitor in the internet, commentingthat finally we have an event that talks about the ‘spaceness‘ of Toruń. In its most transcendent moments, SKYWAY ’09 was a collective aesthetic experience forall publics. Thousands of people ‘played with light’, including a significant number of tourists coming from the capital Warsaw, Germany and other countries such as Spain andItaly. The town center was crowded with photographers, professional and amateur, andthere weren’t so many people – and kids – in the streets since the last visit of the Pope. The reason for such fuss? Art. The art of light in urban context. The art of art as the art of being together, something clearly stated in the Festival‘s central piece, Floating Stars , themonumental religious-like participatory audiovisual device installed in the courtyard of theOld Town Hall. During the official opening, at this work by Nuno Maya & Carole Purnelle,the tone was set, with the official representatives, namely the President of the Municipality,surrounded by a mass of visitors anxiously desiring to be part of  . At that moment, it wasobvious what particular role urban light art and the very culture of light art might have inthat particular urban situation, in a town whose touristical appeal is far from beingexhausted and deserves an upgrade in artistic quality and international visibility.  2 Context, opportunity: the city and its culture  Toruń, on the banks of the river Vistula, is one of the oldest and most beautiful Polishcities, with around 250 000 inhabitants. Located at a site of intersection of ancient traderoutes, it has been propagating its traditional economy and openness to the world fornearly 800 years. The gothic buildings of Toruń's Old Town, which won the designation of World Heritage Site from UNESCO in 1997, present proof of Toruń's centuries-old economic,cultural and intellectual ties with the leading cities of Europe associated in the HanseaticLeague. A place of  troubled and rich history, it lies right in the heart of Europe.  The city, founded in 1233, is renowned forNicolaus Copernicus,the founder of Modern Astronomy. A very well preserved Gothic city centre, around the Old Town Hall, thePlanetarium, the Puppet Theatre, the Contemporary Art Centre are other attraction points,in a context full of opportunities for exciting cultural work. Departing from Heritage, newproductive initiatives in Toruń are a way to foster Culture as pretext for renewal,articulating creativity and regional development.In 2016, one of the two European Capitals of Culture will be Polish. Toruń presents its Bidduring 2010 and 2011, and according to polls and important opinion makers, is well placedto become the Polish choice. This is why a new Light Festival became an importantcomponent in a strategy of cultural dynamics and communicational visibility of the City, ina precise moment of its long history. SKYWAY’s productive dualities and artistic premises  The concepts and discourses promoted by SKYWAY ‘09’s pieces might be summarized in aseries of basic productive dualities. To start with the tension between Nature/Art, the eventdeparts from Copernicus’s heritage as a pretext, in an opportunity to rethink thepossibilities for an innovative engagement between art and scientific knowledge andresearch. Astronomy – but also Astrophysics and Cosmology – thus may become theidentifying marker of SKYWAY. In terms of the duality Economy/Art, SKYWAY tries to relateto urban marketing and development strategies. The Festival aims to be a step in affirming Toruń in the international arena of creative cities. Then, there is the Culture/Art tension. The articulating of the metaphors of Light and lightness play here an important role.SKYWAY shall become a reference point in the Polish cultural landscape, and it would bedesirable for an evolving programme to be held regularly thereby gaining meaning,significance and repute. Toruń shall become another ‘city of light’, joining other existingnetworks in the globe, but with Art assuming a responsability beyond any reductionistvisions of its structuring cultural role. Finally, there’s the crucial tension Society/Art. Here,the themes of the Environment, of Sustainability, of Ecology and of Education shallprogressively be addressed.For those who visit Toruń, it becomes clear that the city is particularly appropriate for sucha multilayered reflection, not the least because of it’s controlled scale, catchy atmosphereand defined urban image. In museum based fine art practice there is often an aloof andcontemplative approach to cultural value. Contemporary Public Art, though, aims at apragmatic challenge to the public, in the realm of emotional life, both at the interior andpublic dimensions. This is art‘s most radical character, the capacity to create an emotionalworld, challenging the everyday. In the curatorial work, this is where beauty steps in. Inthis framework, collaborative approaches, along with simple gestures of visibility, of respect for the scientific and the spiritual may turn the cultural programming in such a cityinto a moment of urban beauty: the beauty of lived consciousness. Why a Light Festival in Toruń?  Throughout Europe, there are several ‘festivals of light’ in Europe, each one takingadvantage of particular opportunities, contexts, themes. There is, though, no other citythat can claim to have such a special relation with the Sky as Toruń. There are as well notso many cities in the world where science and history, religion and heritage may meet in asuch a multilayered and productive way. Because Light Works and Installations are capableof transfiguring existing monuments, streets, traditions, and thus offering the city adynamics expression, another international visibility, light is a ‘soft tool’ not only to leadpeople to become more aware of their values, but to lend the city a convivial character.Particularly in Toruń, light must be ‘light’, here in the sense that to illuminate certainspaces and to present the passer-by of Toruń with light installations is a wonderful  3 opportunity to bring a character of levity to the everyday and foster the lightness of creativity. The concept underlying SKYWAY aimed to present the public of Toruń – localsand tourists – with light works which managed to shed new light onto monuments, spacesand traditions, creating the desire to stroll like one is in a live museum, full of surprises andwhere innovation was fostered.  4 Highlighting the town: the SKYWAY interventions All clearly related to the rich context of Toruń, some of the works displayed by SKYWAYfostered community/identity representation; others promoted the bodily interaction withvisitors; many also represented intellectual or spiritual challenges. The visitors wereconfronted with work at different scales: human-scale objects which the public felt invitedto touch and feel; architecturally scaled interventions that transformed the visual characterof façades and the nearby spaces; works which underscored intellectual or philosophicalideas, and finally situations which simply invited people to experience light in thelandscape. In SKYWAY ’09, artists presented their perspectives on the role that theconscience of the sky can play in the everyday life of a city. Different aspects of the urbanfabric were highlighted: from the ruins of the medieval Teutonic Castle to the busy SzerokaMain Street.At the event’s core, the installations promoted in particular the awareness of the historicalurban center, proposing emotive audio-visual experiences for the whole family, at/nearsome of the main architectural and cultural symbols of Toruń. They were conceived tointroduce the main arguments that shall contribute for the success of Toruń’s Bid forEuropean Capital of Culture in 2016:– the well-preserved gothic environment, where its most outstanding feature, the Old TownHall, is a symbol of intelligence and wit;– the idea of a town where there is a real relation with Science, Astronomy and the Sky inparticular, where the successful Planetarium is truly an epicenter of culture;– the sense of the sacred and the spiritual, which is a trace of Toruń’s and Poland’s culturalidentity, as evident in the Church of the Holy Spirit. Guided tour: moving emotions Nuno Maya [n. 1978] and Carole Purnelle‘s [n. 1964] Floating Stars daily presentation inthe courtyard of the unique Old Town Hall, one of the most monumental gothic town hallsin Europe,   was both a participatory work and an immersive experience. It worked as a focalpoint in the heart of the old city and of the whole event. Floating candles lighted up anartificial sky, with everyone being invited to take part in this art piece, a communal andspiritual call. In Floating Stars , a collective and collaborative device, a fountain createdspecifically for the projection site represents the sky. In the beginning of eachpresentation, the sky is dark: empty. Candles are distributed to the people who then lightthem and put them floating on the water. Every evening at sunset, the fountainprogressively became full of floating candles. The sky becomes full of stars. Filmed in real-time, the floating candles were projected over the surrounding building facades. The 360ºprojection immersed the public who continually stepped inside. Mixing analogue and digitaltechniques, linking past and present, this installation deals with fire as primordial element,generating light like the stars. The musical score, by Portuguese composer Luís Cília,evoked the serenity and spirituality of the universe. The same artists presented a video projection on the facade of the Holy Spirit Church. Sky Machine is a sound&vision experience adapted with high precision to the architecture linesof the facade of the church. The moving graphic elements interact with the built material,unworking the idea of device and at the some time reminding us of the cyclic link between‘down here’ and ‘up there’. In this piece, the artists link the idea of the universe as amachine – take our solar system – to its visible effects in our planet, in our daily life.Needless to say, this was probably the most cherished of the works presented, permeatingthe whole atmosphere of the city’s central square with mythical imagery.At the courtyard of the Toruń Planetarium, in a place which used to be a part of Toruńgaswork , Czech Jana Matejkova [b. 1979] sculptor and performer, experimented with lightand shade, creating a doubly artificial industrial landscape. In cooperation with RoryMiddleton (UK) she created Wish Comet, one of the most visually appealing and graphicallyimposing installations of the Festival. When you see the faling meteors (untruly called ‘falling stars’), you may make a wish [JM].At the Planetarium, Jana Matejkova rendered the recordings of the wishes of the visitors,with the voice of a Polish actor ressonating in the installation space to the silent respect of the visitors who understood better that any foreigner the impact of those apparently trivialwords. I’m an immigrant, working abroad, I wish I could come back to Poland… I wish my husband could be wiser… In a quite a different register than the large-scale Maya&Purnelle audiovisual shows,Matejkova’s Comet  became, for thousans of viewers and listeners, more like an open-airmeditation spot.
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