November 1, 2018

LIGHTS FANTASTIC

Aurora celebrates its 7th edition this weekend

Founded in 2010 by Shane Pennington, Joshua King, and Veletta Forsythe Lill,the Dallas-based Aurora has always been the local arts festival that could. From its humble-ish beginnings of 1,400 attendees in Dallas Heritage Village, the biannual event grew to a massive crowd of 50,000 filling the Arts District to immerse themselves in works that merged light, video, and sound.

Now, in its 7thaddition, Aurora is both bigger and smaller, all at the same time. The programming has expanded to spread out of the Arts District and across the city, including “Aurora Expanded” talks, screenings, and presentations leading up to November 3rd’s main event centered around City Hall. Yet the artist list is winnowed from the traditional 80-plus talents to just 24 participants, including this year’s grant winners.

Says the festival’s director of programming Monica Salazar, “Last year, when we featured ‘Prelude ‘(Aurora’s sneak peek), people were spending more time with the work. With less pieces featured, you can grab a drink, talk to people and still have enough time to see the work. And an expanded program is a step forward so viewers can get more insight into the main exhibition.”

Engaging with—and truly understanding—the art has always been a goal for Aurora’s founders, one even more crucial to achieve when you consider this year’s theme. Entitled “Future Worlds,” it takes on a particularly prescient view when worrying about the direction our world is taking is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, no matter which side of the political fence one resides.

Artist Refik Anadol’s work “Melting Memories” is also featured in Aurora

With that in mind, Justine Ludwig (formerly Dallas Contemporary’s director of exhibitions/senior curator and currently Creative Time’s executive director) and Dallas-based curator/writer Danielle Avram have teamed as co-curators to bring a hyper-focused selection of pieces to the fest that hone in on the convergence of natural and constructed worlds. Along with New York-based curator DooEun Choi and Berlin’s Nadim Samman, their efforts have resulted in a selection of work that isn’t just pleasing to the eye or engaging to the soul; it’s a critical exploration of human destiny. We took a few moments to chat with Ludwig and Avram about what we can expect to see in this year’s Aurora.

As co-curators, how did you divide and conquer selecting the work you are showing this year?
Justine Ludwig: “Originally I was reached out to (by organizers) after the last Aurora two years ago. When I moved to New York, the organization wasn’t something I could take on my own. I’ve always admired Danielle’s work and wanted an excuse to work with her. I think we bring a similar sensibility.”

Danielle Avram: “The basic framework of our section was already in place because Justine has already determined the idea was pointed towards these animal/human hybrids, and it just worked out that I was incorporating artists that expanded on the idea of ecology. Not so much thinking about it as strictly biological environments, but thinking about the nature of an environment and borders. Justine was already working with Paula Crown, and I was tasked with bringing in more local people, which is where (Denton-based) David Stout and Alicia Eggert came in. Kristin (Lucas) was someone I wanted to work with for years—she lives in Austin, which is nice because she’s Texas-based.”

Kristin Lucas’ “Sick Waves” references the environment and ecology

What inspired you to take the particular angle you did for your curation? Why was it crucial for you both to focus on the environment?

JL: “For me, in this moment, the ecology andthe environment are very important aspects—that reality of, ‘do we have a world to come to in the future from a physical standpoint?’ I’d been reading a lot of Timothy Morton (author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World ) and studying his engagement of looking at philosophy and ecology, and it functioned as a jumping off point. As the Doomsday clock moves closer and closer, we have to look to the future.”

How did you select the placement of the work?
DA: “When you think about the locations of Aurora, it has taken place in the Arts District which is a defining space. Now around the civic center, it incorporates a lot of unique-to-Dallas architecture. Aurora has been judicious in the way its selected where the works will be. It seems everyone had to sort of find their space, but once we started nailing down the specifics of the work, it further drove the locations. I’m excited to see how everything is going to function together and how viewers will take it all in.”

Miguel Chevalier’s rendering of “Digital Icons” outside Dallas City Hall, this year’s new Aurora nucleus

What is uniquely Dallas about Aurora?
JL: “I think there’s a very high communal buy-in in art (in the city) that’s something I saw firsthand living there. There’s a high sense of visual literacy. I really believe in the value of visual culture in quotidian existence. And the other side is the lean to the spectacular here, the ‘bigger is better’ mentality. Everything is bigger in Texas, which is a way of approaching art that really speaks to Aurora’s spirit and Dallas itself.” —Kendall Morgan

The Details: Aurora “Future Worlds” Light, Video and Sound Biennial, November 3 from 7 p.m.– 2 a.m. City Hall, 1500 Marilla Street. Entrance is free.