What do you do, when you are invited to transform Amsterdam’s iconic Skinny Bridge into a work of art? During the first Amsterdam Light Festival in 2012 internationally renowned light artist Titia Ex did exactly the opposite of what you might expect. Instead of adding even more light, she obscures the 1,800 LED lamps that usually illuminate the bridge and covers the contours with reflective sheets. Thus transforming the Skinny Bridge into a light-‐catcher, emitting no light itself but absorbing the existing light.
Appears@Amsterdam (2012) is an enigma. During the day the Skinny Bridge appears to dissolve into the light. The reflective, curving foil warps the surrounding world. The robust wooden bascule bridge seems to have become elastic, just like the surroundings, which shrink and swell as if in a dream. When darkness falls the Skinny Bridge provides
an even more mysterious spectacle.
Then, like a chameleon, the bridge merges into its surroundings. The dancing reflections of streetlight, headlights and neon signs melt into a waterfall of light. The bridge seems to lose its substance, but this is deceptive. An optical illusion, drawing attention to our sight’s limitations. Titia Ex is fascinated by light. By its unlimited visual possibilities – from daylight and neon to flashing LED lights – and its wealth of meanings. There is something intangible about light. You can’t grab hold of it, you just see it. And yet it has a huge impact on how we perceive space. Whether at dawn or by an electric light bulb, the structure of space unfolds in the light.
Conversely, when the light goes out you are literally groping in the dark, with all the associated feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. No wonder we have an emotional relationship with light. From Stonehenge, Chinese fireworks and gothic cathedrals to Olafur Eliasson’s artificial sun in the Tate, people have always stage-‐managed intangible light. Titia Ex knows that light and space are blood brothers. But instead of creating spatial framework for the light, she articulates the form and significance of an existing, usually public, space using light. A church tower in Utrecht is thus encircled with a neon halo. The 17th century botanical gardens in Amsterdam and a Frankfurt natural history museum are temporarily enhanced with a most extraordinary specimen, the electrically powered Flower of the Universe.
Or should this interactive, colour-changing artificial plant be called Flower of the Future? And now she produces Appears@Amsterdam in a city of painters and optical illusions.
In Amsterdam, where the reflective water sets the world upside down and robs it of its substance, Ex adds a second mirror that reflects and fragments the reflection into a dizzying kaleidoscopic image. Amsterdam-based Titia Ex is familiar with the animated reflections of this city-‐on-‐the-‐water, but nothing is what it seems to be. Is this the source of her fascination with light?