Dallas’ Most Arresting Art Event Gives New Life to Forgotten Downtown Haunts, Dodges Hell and Brings the Light

The Future Worlds of Aurora

BY // 11.08.18

“It’s bringing Hell with it.”

The police officer has one hand on his gun, the other is outstretched, muscles tight, with a finger towards the heavens. The wind begins to scoop up the empty Coke bottles and crumpled newspapers and dump them on top of cars and against the stone monoliths which make up Downtown Dallas. Through the sky above City Hall and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, thunder cracks through the blackened night sky, causing the outdoor installations of light and sound to shake and stutter.

Welcome to Aurora 2018.

Since being founded in 2010, this marks the first year the urban playground took place at its new location, in and around the open air of Downtown Dallas. The biennial art event, which highlights work of light and sound, only lasted two hours before the heavens split open, bringing rain, thunder, and even hail with it. This year’s Aurora theme was “Future Worlds,” with much of the work dealing with philosophical issues contemplating activism and political contrasts.

Aurora has drummed up serious corporate sponsorship, proving that an artists-driven idea can, in fact, succeed with the right collaboration and backing. Dallas-based artists Joshua King and Shane Pennington founded the festival, along with Valette Forsythe Lill, founding executive director of the Dallas Arts District, and in a few years Aurora has received the backing of The Dallas Morning News as a media partner and sponsors such as AT&T, Comerica Bank, Omni Hotels and others.

This is no small task in an age where Dallas’ DIY ethos have been suffocated by the city’s fire marshall, leading to a recent dwindling of activity outside of what stirs in the banquets, VIP parties, and museum prize galas. That Aurora has not only survived, but thrived is a testament to the homegrown moxie of King and Pennington. It helps that the event has always went out of its way to incorporate the best Dallas-based new media and video artists in the city.

Past Aurora collaborators include Sean Miller, Carolyn Sorter, Brittany Ransom and Alfredo Salazar-Caro.

As the rain began to wash out one’s vision, the flickering lights of Dallas artist Alicia Eggert’s All The Light You See (2017), became a lighthouse for patrons trying to find Young Street, the nearest main road to exit, which Eggert’s work faced. Although the forecasts preached doom, there seemed no contingency plan in place for Aurora in case of rain. With the lighting, and then downpour coming swiftly and unrelenting, people ran for their cars.

Yet, when the last drop finally fell, many returned. The shadows of City Hall, concrete jungles, and even the Pioneer Plaza cemetery became haunted once again by patrons wanting more of Aurora. Relocating Aurora to the maximum physicality of City Hall allowed for the event to redefine itself amidst forgotten terrain.

Who, if anyone, ever has visited this area of Dallas before? At least on purpose? It is forgotten, save for a Confederate spectre or two.

New Space, New Life

Where as Aurora’s old site, the Arts District, offered legitimacy amidst the DMA, Nasher Sculpture Centre and Winspear Opera House, it also created a carnival-like atmosphere, where art and artifice stood on equal footing. Cellphones and selfies made it difficult to discern which performance was intentional, or a cruel twist of cellphone addiction happenstance. It is obvious Aurora founders and creative team took respected feedback and responded with a stripped-down, atmospheric installation that put the artistic themes front and centre, stripping away most of the psychedelic distractions that hampered past iterations.

Years past it was hard to not interpret the event’s curatorial statement to be largely dependent on projection mapping onto the facades of buildings, creating an immersive kaleidoscope of sound, with little inquisitive fury. The new location let each piece breath, with ample walking distance between each installation, allowing for meditation and conversation around what is happening with each installation.

Especially when you began at Simon Mullan’s Continuous Power, chosen by Berlin-based curator, Nadim Samman, whose thoughtful selections made up the staying power of this year’s thematic discourse. Pink, purple, and blue lowrider cars, ripped straight from 1993’s Blood In Blood Out are parked doors open, trunks ajar, as they would be painted in any scene from a Chicano neighborhood, bulletproof vests hanging from backseats, “spinner” rims cutting figures in the night air. The riders are ominously omitted, the cars bump and blare electronic symphonies, bouncing Latin beats off the cold, white stone of the Dallas Convention Center.

At certain points in the ghetto concerto the bass begins to intermix with the sterile symphony playing on the Convention Center’s PA, creating a vulgar, poetic duet.

Continuing on, viewers are met face to face with Lu Yang’s Power of Will, curated by New York City-based curator Doohen Choi who as a curator this year mined various cultural backgrounds to offer questions on the small steps in the evolutionary ladder bridging man and machine. In Yang’s piece, a giant inflatable replica of the artist’s head lays on its back, facing the sky. The sculpture encompasses the artist’s fascination with Southeastern Asian black magic, Gong Tau.

Gong Tau began in China and centers around folklore, narratives involving ghosts, spirits and gods. Yang’s invocation positions itself as healthy counterpoint to our modern technological dependence, a secular loyalty that has rendered our spiritual awareness impotent.

A Free Willy Moment

Per the events history of generous regional inclusion, curator Samman invited North Texas-based Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and artist, Magnús Sigurdarson to mount a performance, Dances With Whales (Keiko – Always On My Mind) based around Keiko, the troubled orca whale who was the subject of the film, Free Willy. Patrons lined the wall which peered down into the enclave where Georgiou’s dance troupe performed to Darude’s Sandstorm.

In North Texas, DGDG seemingly appears at every major and minor art event in of note, yet fatigue was not found here, if anything the performance was a strong foray in a city that struggles to produce performance work in quantity and quality. As the storm approached, drops of rain pierced the floating clouds of foam pushed up into the sky by the dancing group below. Inflatable whales danced up and down by black-clad performers through the air, baptized by the wash of water.

At once farce and elegy, the performance was much like this year’s iteration of Aurora — a somber and subtle remember to pay tribute to the little things.

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