The relationship between art and patronage has certainly has changed over the years, and Impossible Light is a near-perfect distillation of that evolution.
Gone are the days of a lot of visceral struggle and toil over the creation of a small, single piece. It is now art-by-community – or committee, if you want to be cynical about it. This documentary chronicles the effort of the Bay Lights project, an LED installation over the bridge coordinated by Ben Davis, a Damien Hirst-like nonprofit chair whose past titles include “community mediator.” There’s also a “social media advisor” and a “technology entrepreneur” on board. For people whose two chief concerns are liability and branding, it’s certainly an interesting blueprint for creating the art of the future.
It’s in this respect that perhaps filmmaker Jeremy Ambers could have illuminated his work with a deeper and more critical look at the process as a whole. Impossible Light focuses almost entirely on the “idea-makers” of the project and their sturdy quests to apply for permits and hit up angel investors. It would be difficult for any director to make such details as thrilling as Bridge Over the River Kwai. Ironically, it’s the glossed-over explanatory details that are most interesting about the project and point to, however unintentional, how broadly one can define what art is in the past for the future. Briefly discussed is Joseph Strauss’ 1930s effort to construct the engineering marvel, which the bridge truly is. Other truly fascinating details – how the lights and display actually work, the crewmen who had to do the nitty-gritty of installing the piece – blink and disappear as quickly as the LED lights. If only all those components could have been choreographed in a way that’s as pretty as the display itself.
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