Artist Jen Lewin and organiser Pavel Sedlák on the Prague Light Festival

'The Pool', photo: archive of Signal festival

Hello and welcome to a special programme looking at the upcoming Signal Prague Light Festival, which is taking place from 16-19th October. It is the second year that the festival is reaching Prague, bringing light art works to various locations across the city.

Photo: CTK
I am joined by Pavel Sedlák, Programme Director of the Prague Light Festival, and also by Jen Lewin, a renowned Colorado-based light and interactive art sculptor. Thank you both for being here today.

Both: “Thanks for inviting us.”

So if I may begin, Pavel, tell me about this festival.

“It is a showcase of light art. We bring light installations and projection mappings to the streets of Prague, turning the whole city, mainly the historical part, into a giant shining gallery.”

How do you do that? You presumably installed all sorts of cables and miles of lights and cables and generators. How do the logistics of that work?

“Production-wise it is pretty hard work. We have 21 installations in public spaces, so one needs to talk to many authorities and gain the cooperation of the municipalities. And of course in terms of technology, it is many cables, many lights, and many great people helping us.”

So what are some of the locations where you are mounting installations?

“There are squares like the Old Town Square, Marianské Náměsti, but also parks like Kampa where Jen’s work will be on display. And we also have works on the banks of the river Vltava.”

So Jen, tell me a little bit about yourself and what specific artwork you are bringing to Prague.

'The Pool',  photo: archive of Signal festival
“I have been making large interactive sculptures for some time now. The piece that I am bringing out here is called ‘The Pool’ and it is a public piece of work that is intended to engage people in very direct, interactive play within the sculpture. It is comprised of hundreds of platforms that visitors can stand on and play on and they light up and spin and animate. It is really a sculpture that is intended to allow everyone to engage with it. An interesting thing that happens is that it also leads to people engaging with each other as well. So you have this really dynamic community experience stemming from this artwork.”

So presumably you have some kind of sensors within the artwork that react to when people touch it, or speak, or how does that work?

“Each of the platforms will sense if someone stands on them and it also senses how people are standing on them. The simplest description is that if you stand on them, then they will animate and there will be a pattern of light that will begin to shine. And if you actually dance on it, or jump on it, or move quickly, then that pattern will keep spinning or speed up almost like a hula-hoop. And then there are certain platforms that we call ‘magic platforms’ that will actually change the rest of the pool and change the colours of the whole palette.”

Has it been a difficult logistics challenge to set up in Kampa park?

Pavel Sedlák,  photo: archive of Signal festival
“No. I have an amazing team. The piece is really very specifically designed to travel and to be installed in public spaces. So were are quite used to going into parks, figuring out how to install it, dealing with issues of power and so forth. It has been a great experience, and we will actually be fine tuning it tonight and then we will be going live on Thursday [16th].”

You’ve installed similar works across the world – I am reading here: Sydney, Denver, sow how does this location compare?

“This particular piece has been all over the world. It went to Singapore, Sydney, Cleveland, at Burning Man [Nevada], Portugal. After being here it will travel to the Warwick Arts Centre in the UK. We love to put it in really public places so this park and this location is just perfect. But what we have noticed across all the cultures is that it seems to have a unifying effect. Kids immediately jump in and play, adults tend to watch, and they start to play and laugh and communicate with each other. So it has been received fairly consistently across all these different locations.”

Pavel, tell me about the very concept of light as art. Because people are used to museums and exhibits whereby the visitor looks at an object, and the only real interactive part is perhaps an information display. But now light in itself is becoming an art form?

“Definitely. Light is an amazing medium for artists, and so they work with it creatively. And what is so interesting about these light art festivals like Signal is that they take place with no barriers. They are free for everyone. And artists specifically enjoy working with this medium across various locations.”

How does a festival go about being organised with city authorities? The financing and logistics...

Photo: CTK
“The city of Prague has supported us from the outset. The idea of a light festival took three years to develop in the Czech capital. And the first actual one only occurred last October. We hope that the great support of City Hall continues, because they appreciate that we are able to attract many members of the public to the artistic experience, especially from those who are not necessarily frequent attendees of cinemas, galleries or museums. So with us, they can encounter art just in the streets. Of course, this event also occurs outside of the main tourist season, so the city appreciates another opportunity to increase visitor numbers.”

And how does yours compare with other such festivals of light staged around the world?

“We think that we have been doing fine, because after the first one, The Guardian actually ranked us among the top 10 European light art festivals. But perhaps Jen can compare because she has been around...”

Please do, Jen.

“Prague is such a beautiful city and the work that will be presented I believe will be amazing. For me it is fabulous to be able to create works in a truly public forum and to have work in these places is incredible. But I would also like to add about light art specifically: light has been a component of art from the very beginning. If you think about it, drawing started out by using charcoal, which itself comes about from fire. So whether you are a painter, and how you paint is often closely tied to light, and representing light either through the painting or just looking at the light in the space. I feel that light has been absolutely integral to art forever. We are a part of this really interesting time, however, whereby artists can use projections or LEDs, and there is this tremendous light technology available that is allowing artists like myself to really play with the medium in amazing ways.”

So kind of a chicken or egg question: which came first – light artists or venues that showcase this, thus attracting artists to turn to this form of expression?

Photo: archive of Signal festival
“I feel like they actually grew at the same time. I know that within my community, as it were, just the availability of LEDs was so enabling. And all of a sudden, all these artists were able to play with light. I mean ‘The Pool’ could not have been possible without LEDs. It would just require too much power. and I think that many of the installations here require utilising a lot of new technologies regarding lighting. So that change in technology inspired a lot of artists, and then these artists started creating a lot more works. And then the work found its way out there and cities started to see that this was just really exciting and interesting. And it creates a really awesome, dynamic public art experience.”

Pavel, tell me about some of the other art works that will be on display, asides from Jen’s since she is here and able to talk about hers.

“This year we are featuring a total of 21 projects. Some of them are projection mappings on the facades of quite famous buildings like the Municipal Library, or Palác Kinských, in the Old Town Square, which will host[ed] the grand opening of the festival [on] Thursday at 7pm. And there are also interesting installations being mounted at Zítkovy sady, or by the river. One such example is ‘Large Pendulum Wave’, which is the title of a work by Ivo Schoofs of the Netherlands. This work, which we brought to Prague, weighs 9 tonnes. Some installations are more subtle, some are really large-scale and kind of monumental. And also the proportion of participants from here – meaning Czech artists – and abroad is half-half.”

Tell me a bit more about some of the Czech artists.

“We are actually launching a world premiere of a new sculpture by David Černý. We work with young artists like Gabriela Procháska, who has created a light installation directly for the Vltava River, and at Ovocný Trh there will also be a work by Richard Loskot, which is called ‘Grand Spectrum’ and is a rainbow inspired installation.”

Jen, do you have any experiences in appreciating the works of Czech artists such as David Černý and others that will be at this festival?

“I have looked at their work, and am really excited to be able to see it in person, and also to be able to meet them in person.”

Photo: archive of Signal festival
And what are your overall impressions of the Czech Republic?

“It’s beautiful. I have actually never been to Prague and it has been absolutely gorgeous. We have been working really hard and so we are looking forward to the weekend where we can tour around a bit. I was in Plzeň yesterday and that was a gorgeous city too.”

Just to remind our listeners and readers, the Signal Prague Light Festival is taking place from 16-19th October all across Prague. There’s not a central point?

Pavel: “The farthest location is Náměstí Míru, where a projection mapping by the Spanish group Onion Lab will take place. But we are mainly located in the historical centre, the heart of Prague.”

Jen Lewin and Pavel Sedlák, thank you both very much for joining us.

Jen: “Thank you.”

Pavel: “It was a pleasure.”