Growing in leaps and bounds since its 2010 iteration in Old City Park, Aurora has become a significant reason why Dallas is acknowledged as a world-class arts center.
This year's main event (beginning Friday at 7 pm) is notable not just for its theme — "All Together Now" — but also for its expansion beyond a single spectacular night. An "arts week" of artist and curator talks, major media sponsors, a partnership with AT&T Performing Arts Center, and a chill wave VIP after-party with DJs Tycho and Com Truise have all helped to evolve the interactive site-specific Aurora into a free experience that truly has something for everyone.
And that's just the way co-founders Joshua King, Shane Pennington, and Veletta Forsythe Lill like it. Along with director of programming Monica Salazar and press agent Anna Russ, the trio has rounded up a total of 76 talents this year with the assistance of guest curators Carson Chan, Julia Kaganskiy, Tim Goossens, and Aja Martin, plus the students and faculty of Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
Explains Pennington, "Guest curators obviously breathe fresh life into the event. It’s important to have other viewpoints, so that’s the next evolution for Aurora."
Also new this year is two off-site experiences that are harbingers for the eventual expansion of Aurora all over the city. "Aurora is all about exploring unseen places, and this is our first little baby steps to going outside the Arts District," Pennington says. "I'd love to see the next one expand to Oak Cliff, filter into downtown, and come back to the Cedars."
Here are Pennington's lucky 13 installations that will make their mark on the 2015 edition of Aurora:
1. Frances Bagley, Witness
One of the first works to venture outside the Arts District, this video installation takes over the Cityplace/Uptown DART station with its commentary on public surveillance and the question of "who is watching whom?" For riders on the DART system, it's a way to slowly immerse yourself in the Aurora experience before continuing on the train or taking the trolley into the heart of the art.
2. St. Elsewhere presented by Cafe Momentum and House of Plates
St. Elsewhere transforms the Thanks-Giving Square Chapel with a "synesthetic union of sound, taste, color, and visual mysticism," according to an artist’s statement. Says Pennington, "You’ll have taste, you’ll have sound, and I’m really excited about that. The chapel feels really magical, and I love the idea of people who have never been there, this will give you a reason to go in."
3. Memo Akten, Simple Harmonic Motion
A non-literal interpretation of the cultural diversity of Istanbul, Simple Harmonic Motion is the London-based Akten's exploration of complex behavior through the interaction of simple rhythms. To Pennington, the light-based work in One Arts Plaza "sounds like electronic synthesized guitar strings. It almost looks like popcorn exploding in the sky."
4. Joao Beira, Luxate
A visual artist from Portugal currently studying at the University of Texas in Austin, Beira has brought a dance performance exploring the perception of light and space into the Wyly Theatre. Fog machines and digital light patterns promise a mesmerizing dialogue between performer and audience.
5. Jeremy Shaw, Introduction to the Memory Personality
A hypnotic work with roots in the films of David Cronenberg, this Berlin-based artist's production at the Dallas City Performance Hall utilizes quotes inspired by pop religious cults that take the viewer on "this insane journey." Says Pennington, "It's hypnotic; it's a 12-minute video about traveling through life. I really identify with this piece — I love the idea of traveling and getting into your head."
6. 3_Search, Sense/Coalescence
The collaborative group 3_Search's takeover of the outside of the Wyly was a huge hit last year, and for their follow-up, curator Leo Kuelbs is teaming up with composer Joris Blanckaert, opera singer Elise Caluwaerts, and DJ Alex Hamadey to explore the phenomenon of "synesthesia," a neurological condition where one sense leads to a second sense's pathway. It's sure to be the crowd-pleaser of 2015.
7. Andreas Greiner, Toccata for Pyrocystic Fusiformis
If you've ever wondered what it's like to see plankton in action (and — let's face it — who hasn't?), then Toccata at the Meyerson will fulfill all your dreams with the help of a piano. Transparent canisters filled with seawater and algae will perch on the instrument, all the better to let these bioluminescent creatures do their thing to the music.
8. James Clar, Pixelated Serenity
"Walk toward the light" takes on a new meaning in this work, presciently placed in the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin de Guadalupe. Meant to be taken in gradually, the piece is a pause in the media-saturated landscape we all inhabit.
9. Nomi Ruiz & Martin(e) Gutierrez, Origen
Best known as a singer with Hercules & Love Affair, Ruiz will team with performance artist Gutierrez on a rotating bed on Flora Street. Commenting on seduction and selfie culture, this work might be one to steer the kids past quickly on the way to more family-friendly performances.
10. Bettina Pousttchi, Double Monument for Flavin and Tatlin X
This is the first time the Nasher Sculpture Center has unveiled artwork solely for Aurora, and Pennington hopes this neon and metal sculpture will be a harbinger of even more participation from the area’s museums. "I want the DMA and the Nasher and the Crow to star doing some heavy programming in the future," he says.
11. James Geurts, Periphery
An expansive public light sculpture in Klyde Warren Park, this work of yellow beams suspended in a scaffolding structure will illuminate the night for anyone driving down Pearl Street on their way to the park.
12. Picaroon, Global Sounds
Highlighting the cultural diversity immigrants help to create, Picaroon's installation of seven pyramids with their own unique sound in Klyde Warren Park begs to be explored and, most important, touched. Says Pennington, "It's something the kids will love. We take everything well-rounded [into the programming]. We want the kids to have a good time too, and all ages can enjoy this piece."
For families looking for a deeper immersion in the work, volunteers from the University of Texas's PhD ATEC program will move through the district passing out a Spanish and English "scavenger hunt" to-do lists designed to inspire the next generation of art fans.
13. Sahra Montalebi, Ibex (Diagrams for An Empty Stage)
A vocal-only operetta with a video component staged in the First United Methodist Church, this work is one of four set in spiritual centers throughout the district. As one could argue art is its own religion, the transcendence the viewer will feel when observing these works seems well-placed within the context of a church. Not every piece may be sacred, but they are all surely divine.