Electric Nights – Art and Pyrotechnic

NOCHsunflowrAS vista de la exposicion 2.jpgImage courtesy Laboral

Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, is going to celebrate its 4th birthday this week. Since its opening, the art center has exhibited over 850 artworks, 108 of which were created by artists from the Asturian region. Quite an achievement for such a young institution. Over the years, Laboral had also become a trusted harbour for new media art works. The space’s audacious programme gave artists working with new technologies the opportunity to exhibit their pieces in the best possible conditions and over a period of time that extends way beyond the one allocated by new media art festivals.

5alta5da93b929e.jpgJosé Antonio Sistiaga, Impresiones en la alta atmósfera (still from the film)

This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I don’t know how long Laboral’s new love story with video art will last but judging from the delight of the crowd that came to the opening last week, the Laboral exhibition team is clearly onto something. I can’t remember seeing visitors so charmed and fascinated by an exhibition. As much as it pains me to see that another door might be closing for new media art, i must admit that i completely share their enthusiasm for the show. Noches Electricas, featuring mostly videos, is one the most breath-taking and audacious i’ve seen so far in Gijón.


The title of the new exhibition, Electric Nights, is directly inspired by Les nuits électriques, a short film directed by Eugene Deslaw in 1928, in which city lights at night-time around European cities are presented like a fireworks show.

The similarity between fireworks and movies is at the very heart of this exhibition. Both are intermittent ephemeral projection of light in the darkness. Fireworks are yesterday’s action movies. They used to last 90 minutes and their complex, narrative structures, often told a story of war and chaos upon which the hero would prevail.

0abarclaysbusinesseer.jpgCai Guo-Quiang, Explosions (selected works), 2003

The works selected come from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou. They include classic photographs, engravings, installations, contemporary videos as well as early experimental and scientific films.

Presented in open plan and conceived both as a parcours and as entertainment, like a classical exhibition, the show follows the principle of fireworks, alternating installations with projections. The moving images are presented on screens in different sizes and formats hanging at varying heights in the space.

5feuer089eb5edc.jpgRoman Signer, Actions 1985-1989, Feuer (Schwarzpulver, Holzbretter, Hitzeschutzanzug, Zeitung

Electric Nights attempts to recreate the magic of fireworks and movies through a use of the exhibition space that transcends the usual ‘white box’ set. In the main room, screens of various sizes are hung on the ceiling, inviting visitors to zigzag through the show but also to keep their head up as if they were attending a firework show. There is very little use of sound, everything is image, mind-blowing image.

broaoouuumge_preview.jpgClaude Closky, Brrraoumm, 1995

Claude Closky‘s Brrraoumm video illustrates perfectly the spirit of the show. The artist has edited excerpts from films at the moment of the explosion -an obligatory scene of the big budget action movie- and presented them in loop. Each explosion leads silently to another one. Each conflagration annihilating any effect the other might have had.

NocheAnthony MacCall.jpgAnthony McCall strips down the movie experience to the shaft of light from a projector that slices through the dark in a theater hall during screening. White beams of light are coming from the ceiling. Cutting through smoke, they are slowly – so slowly you might not even realize anything is happening – tracing shapes on the floor. The cones of light appear almost solid and tangible. Most visitors seemed to think twice before daring to get their body through the beam.

NOCoral.Closky.jpgClaude Closky, L’Hay-les-Roses, 2001

Curators Philippe-Alain Michaud and Benjamin Weil explained at the press conference that they had conceived the show as an explosion of images that needs little introduction. In fact, the only texts that the captions on the walls contain is the title of the artworks, the name of the artist, the media used and the date. Nothing else. I feel like i’ve already spoken too much so the rest of this post is going to follow Michaud’s stripped-down tactic:

NOge Leccia Fumees.jpgAnge Leccia, Fumées, 1995

CIN-CERITHWYNEVANS.jpgCerith Wyn Evans, Pasolini Ostia Remix, 1998-2003

Nromanoral_Paco Paredes.jpgView of the exhibition space. Image courtesy Laboral

Rerrrrrrrrrgine.jpgView of the exhibition space. Image courtesy Laboral

0amontetnnna.jpgAnonymous, Fragment [Climbing Mount Etna], c. 1920

0N y grabados.jpgView of the exhibition space. Image courtesy Laboral

0achariotiiotiotiiot.jpgRoman Signer, Action [chariot de feu], 1985-1989

0anacocoche877.jpgAnonymous, Fragment [Architecture of Fire], c. 1920

Also part of the exhibition: The Way Things Go.

PDF of the exhibition guide.

More images.

Electric Nights – Art and Pyrotechnic, an exhibition conceived by Centre national d’art et de Culture Georges Pompidou and coproduced by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, is open at Laboral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain, until September 12, 2011.