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Noor Riyadh: A mini guide to the world's largest light show

Noor Riyadh: A mini guide to the world's largest light festival
5 min read
07 December, 2023
Noor Riyadh - dubbed the world's biggest light art festival - returns for its third edition. Taking place in public spaces across the Saudi capital, the festival transforms Riyadh into a creative canvas and creates an artistic movement of expression.

From now until December 16, Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, will be illuminated with stunning artworks as part of the third edition of Noor Riyadh, the world's largest light art festival.

Featuring over 120 artworks by approximately 100 artists from around the world, the exhibition showcases a range of conceptual installations as well as large-scale projections. 

The works are displayed in five different locations across the city, which is known for being one of the brightest in the world, from vast valleys (wadis) to contemporary art spaces.

"Light can attract people and encourage contemplation. It is also the most accessible medium for art, particularly in public spaces. The Riyadh Art programme aims to integrate art into the urban landscape and the fabric of the city, creating a gallery without walls," explained Maya Al-Athel, one of the festival's curators, to The New Arab.

"We intend to place these artworks in public spaces, not to displace the city's inhabitants, but rather to encourage them to engage with the art."

To help you make the most of the festival, here's a mini guide to five must-see artworks.

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We Change Each Other by Shilpa Gupta, 2023 (Wadi Hanifah):

The Indian artist, who works with different art forms, has presented a beautiful and poetic animated installation. The installation features three of the most commonly spoken languages in the world- English, Arabic, and Hindi.

The text accompanying the work explains that the presence of these three languages represents unity and the merging of cultures. It also explores the idea of change in interpersonal spaces. The installation includes the words We Change Each Other which light up at different times, creating a peaceful and calming effect on the viewer. This simple yet touching artwork contains several meanings.

According to a statement by the artist, Gupta, the aim of this installation is to highlight the power of language, its historical significance, and its evolution over time.

Shilpa Gupta, We Change Each Other, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and HAVAS
Photo © Noor Riyadh 2023

Living Room by Random International, 2022 (Salam Park):

To experience this interactive installation, which is based on the concept of "space as a living entity," you will enter a dimly lit space filled with numerous mesmerizing rays of light.

This installation is suitable for both adults and children, as the latter are often seen running around and chasing the light beams. Random International is the creator of this installation, led by German-born Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass, whose artistic practice centres around "exploring the impact of technological advancement on the human condition," according to their artist statement.

The group's objective is to expand the question of what it means to be alive today by experimenting with how we relate to different forms of life, perspectives of the world, and each other.

Random International, Living Room, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Mario Guerra
Photo © Noor Riyadh 2023

Nature's Gift by FriendsWithYou, 2017 (Salam Park):

The objective of this Los Angeles-based collective is "to bring more joy, kindness, and love to the world." That feels to be the case with this large bouncy castle-like bricolage that is also a popular hit with the little ones.

Nature's Gift is made of a pile of inflatables, full of air, that is illuminated with bright neon colours from within. They take on different shapes, such as organic forms and metaphysical ideas. "Visitors are invited to explore and enjoy the work in a field-like environment, an inviting space to be enjoyed as a communal experience,” according to a statement.  

FriendsWithYou, Nature’s Gift, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and HAVAS
Photo © Noor Riyadh 2023

Molecule of Light by Chris Levine, 2021 (Wadi Namar): 

"My work is all about the light, the feeling, the sensory experience," the UK artist wrote in a recent post on Instagram. "What a thrill it's been to bring my work to the desert. . . I'm so inspired." Levine is talking about his monumental, 25m-tall structure that is topped with a circular meteorite, coloured with vibrant yellow, pink, and orange light.

Chris Levine, Molecule of Light, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and HAVAS
Photo © Noor Riyadh 2023

Surrounding the structure is a site-specific laser program, emitting dominant laser beams of deep red and purple shades and giving the impression of clouds floating, almost looking like sunset.

There is also a spiritual sound element to the structure since Levine incorporated a solfeggio sound frequency that is believed to calm the mind and body.  

Earthtime 1.26 by Janet Echelman, 2023 (Wadi Namar): 

In this remarkable work, the American artist Janet Echelman and her team created a large net made of braided fibres that float over land. Echelman's art addresses the powerful force of nature. The title 1.26 is based on a measure of time, where the earth's day was made shorter by 1.26 microseconds due to a consequential earthquake in Chile in 2010.

Janet Echelman, Earthtime 1.26 Riyadh, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and HAVAS
​​​​Photo © Noor Riyadh 2023

On Instagram, the artist wrote about being mesmerized by how her art interacts with the wadi. The way the wind whips through the cliff rocks, the rippling net, and her lights mix with a full moon atop the wide open desert sky.

She also mentions the sound of dogs and Arabian foxes at night, as well as the social groupings of traditional majlis couches. So, take a seat on a couch underneath the artwork, look up, and take in this unforgettable view.

Rawaa Talass is a freelance journalist focusing on art and culture emerging from the Middle East. Her work has been published in Art Dubai, Arab News, Al Arabiya English,  Artsy, The Art Newspaper, Kayhan Life, Dubai Collection, and The National

Follow her on Twitter: @byrawaatalass