Lights, Art, and the Signal Festival: How experimental audio-visual art can bridge the intellectual gap to the eclectic art world

PRAGUE, Oct. 10-13, 2019 ⎼ The Signal Festival 2019 had its annual opening on Oct. 10 at 19:00 with exhibits extending across Malá Strana, Old Town, and Karlín. Since its start in 2013, the Signal Festival has been an extremely anticipated festival of audio visual art centered around an unexpected use of lighting with exhibits open to the public for free, and others that require the purchase of a multi-day pass or an individual experience ticket. Each year, the core values of the program focus on the topics of revolution, reflection on the past, and reformation of modern society, and the current festival has an added emphasis on these concepts.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Czech Velvet Revolution, a predominantly peaceful revolution by the Czech people against the communist regime that controlled the state since the coup d’état of 1948. The Signal Festival branded this year as one of remembrance and reflection about Prague’s unique and not-so-distant past. The main theme of the artwork was simplified to three concepts: Revolution, Review, and Reformation.  

Photo belongs to Signal Festival FB page:

Revolution is a deep-rooted and controversial concept interwoven into Czech culture due to the intense political past, a past that is as recent as the 1980s. The reoccurrence of uprisings within 30-40 years inspired the festival’s concept of revolution repetition, a cycle of continuous revolution in which society attempts to halt or alter the evolutionary progression of the era. The Velvet Revolution marked a societal turning point so prominent in the current citizens’ culture that it is reflected throughout Prague and across the country. Most citizens participated in or lived through the revolution and its aftermath, the results of which altered the course of Czech politics and day-to-day life dramatically. The purpose of the Signal Festival 2019 was to connect ideas that are ingrained in Czech society. It also planned to inspire remembrance and reflection on the past to create a new understanding and broaden one’s perspective on these incidents. 

An unintentional consequence of such ideology was the creation of a bridge between the high-brow and experimental audiovisual art community and the everyday Czech person who may not have been introduced to this style of artwork previously. The creators of the festival pushed the idea of revolution as a concept by relating it to the current scale of technical evolution. Technological advances such as 3D printing, animation, and artificial intelligence are becoming more prevalent in society but are still distant conceptually causing them to be misunderstood, not fully idealized, and change dramatically over a short period of time. The Signal Festival as a whole poses the questions: are we as a society able to leave our modern comforts to take a leap into the current technological revolution? Can we as people handle this advancement, for better or for worse?

In the art community, it is a vital concept that art pose questions instead of answering them, but this can sometimes cause the artwork to be inaccessible to the majority of society. A lot of conceptual art pieces can be hard to connect with, especially those dealing with intense trauma that the average person might not have firsthand experience with. Due to a majority of Czech people being familiar with the effects of the Velvet Revolution, the festival was able to create an intellectual playing field that both conceptual artists and people inexperienced with such art to participate in equally. 

The 10^100 exhibition was an expansive and interactive outdoor field of wonder that attracted people of all ages. Created by Giegling, a collective of artists from the University of Weimar, this exhibit served to transform the normal Nostic Garden into an artistic playing field with an interactive sculptural element. The main concept: to draw in people of all walks of life to create the art of the process, i.e. the process of viewing and creating artwork. This form of performative art doesn’t focus on a final piece that would be around for decades but rather creates art out of the once in a lifetime experience created by every individual viewer as a collective. 

The art doesn’t originate from the creator, instead it is by those enjoying it and making their own experience possible. At the exhibit, there were people of all ages, playing with a lightboard that mimicked their motions, leaning over a fan that blew their hair back and made a gorgeous wind of light and hair, and laughing at the more jovial creations. The performative piece did not exist to prove to the audience that it was art; it instead allowed people to define their own experience as they wished. One woman I observed laughed at an art piece, exclaiming, “Now how can that be art! It’s rubbish; I could make that at home myself!” While she may have missed the conceptual artistic point of the exhibit, the non-traditional art still fulfilled the performative aspect of the exhibit. She still found joy in the piece, even at the expense of it, and created her memory therefore fulfilling the art of the performance.

One of the most notable and awe-inspiring exhibits that redefined audiovisual performance in terms of interactive and conceptual art was called R⇼Evolution. Created by SKILZ Studio, a creative space from Kyiv with a concentration on animation and video projection, a group of 3D motion designers, art directors, and screenwriters. They combined to create a projection that interworked bold color theory, an interactive story, and a focus on accessibility to those who do not often frequent the art world. This piece was a monumental display that was projected on the Tyrš House, available to see by those who purchased the 3D glasses at the entrance. This included not only the art exhibition but a hidden Neon Food Bar and café that provided an unexpected twist to the festival’s notable light and visual aesthetic. 

Photo by Lauren Krupczak

 This piece was designed to perfectly fit the house and, when viewed through the 3D glasses, made the abstracted images float off the “screen,” at one point even creating the illusion of the house behind it disintegrating into the universe. Throughout the exhibition, the phrase “restart this game now” was repeated throughout the five minute animated projection. This was said to urge a new revolution since society has reached a “completed” level of evolution with no ability of foreseeable progress. The storyline of the projection goes through the progression of the basic human desire for a better future fueled by man altering their surrounding world through concepts of their imagination with a hope to better society. This lead to an inevitable uprising, and a continuation by the revolution repetition cycle. After a revolution, there is always a period of calm, reflected by the visual art returning to a more neutral state post dismantling. This part of the video urges people to reflect, fuel creativity, and allow democratic ideology to blossom in order to better all of society as a whole, as the revolution intended. Following this historical arc, the video ramps up, creating a chaotic accumulation of light and video, representing the resurrection of controlling power struggles that halt the creative and natural progress of societal evolution to appease the few who are in control. The video is set to loop every five minutes, showcasing how the everlasting cycle of revolution and evolution is set to repeat throughout the course of history as it is created.

Overall, the Signal Festival 2019 desired to showcase concepts and ideas that are foundational pillars of not just Czech culture, but of global culture. Revolution, reformation, and reflection are core values represented in all society, evident in common phrases as “history is bound to repeat itself” and “never forget.” The Signal Festival created an emotional branch between the various cultures of the people in attendance based on concepts of human evolution represented in every society. It extended more than just a common cultural playing field by forming a bridge between the eclectic art community with the average art appreciator and those who do not personally consider themselves to be art connoisseurs. Especially within experimental and up-and-coming fields of art, such as audiovisual and animation, it can be hard to create an accessible and easily understood art piece that reaches audiences of every walk of life. From the various observations and accounts from the festival, it became clear that there was an overwhelming amount of accessible art that strove to create a welcoming atmosphere to all people, something that makes this festival unique and absolutely worth attending in the future whether you are a steadfast art appreciator or just someone looking for an interesting way to spend a weekend. 

Cover image by Alexander Dobrovodsky