A bright spot on the calendar

Gil Teichman, whose work will be shown at the Light Festival, uses light in the same way that other artists use oil paints or watercolors.

Jerusalem Light Festival, Damascus Gate  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Light Festival, Damascus Gate
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even the most beautiful buildings in the world are invisible half of the time, when they are shrouded in darkness and largely ignored. Gil Teichman has made it his mission to illuminate the nighttime splendor, swathing skyscrapers and bridges in thousands of bulbs, a process he compares to a woman dressing in her fancier clothes before going out for a night on the town.
For the renowned light installation artist, light is a medium in the same way that oil paints or watercolors are. Painting with light, he says, gives him the ability to play with shadows, to illuminate the unknown, to draw the viewer into a story created around an existing building and to envelop the audience in energy.
Teichman is one of more than 30 artists from six countries who will create light installations for Jerusalem’s third annual Light Festival, set to begin next Wednesday.
“This huge canvas called Jerusalem is beautiful to draw on,” he says.
For two weeks, colors will dance from the walls of the Old City as well-known buildings in each quarter host whimsical installations of light. A quarter of a million visitors are expected to throng the Old City’s alleyways for the event, a joint venture of the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Ariel Company, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Highlights will include an interactive pinball game with lights on the Damascus Gate, and a Visual Piano on architectural ruins in the Tekuma Garden.
Teichman will transform the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Christian Quarter with an installation called “Colors, Shapes and Sounds,” which will integrate music, sights and sounds of the Old City on the church’s 19th-century stone walls.
For the 43-year-old artist, the Light Festival illustrates the power of the medium of light: chasing away the darkness of normally deserted alleyways, filling them with energy and people, telling stories of the city and its history.
Teichman made his name through dozens of expansive projects around the country and the world, most notably the giant clock on the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv that counted down the millennium, and the ELEM “Light of Hope” installations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In the latter, a bulb on a giant Israeli flag lights up each time someone donates money to the organization, which supports youth in distress.
For three decades, he has pushed the technology of light to create art. His love affair with the medium began at age 13, when he got a summer job at a company that set up lighting for private events.
Since then, he has grown his own company, the Gil Teichman Company Ltd. into one of the largest light artists and event installations in the country.
“Light is the action of Genesis: There was darkness and there was light,” he explains. “You take something beautiful by day, and by night you don’t see it – this makes me curious. I wanted to investigate this, to understand how light affects these things.”
The artist has traveled the world creating lighting for fashion shows and conventions, and he created a light show for the opening of Jerusalem’s Bridge of Strings. For the state’s 60th Independence Day, he designed a laser display simultaneously shown in eight cities across the country on famous landmarks.
But while his art usually illuminates man-made objects and architecture, Teichman says his inspiration comes mostly from the way light interacts in nature.
“I’m affected by bigger things, like how light hits a tree and shines through the leaves. I love how light comes in through the window and creates thick rays, and when they come through they have a lot of drama,” he says.
“Light is this huge energy that differentiates between good and bad,” he continues, noting that light connects to “religion, faith... it accompanies us our entire lives, from the moment that man was born.”
Humans are hardwired to seek out light, from the earliest days when fire became an important light source and shadows danced on the walls of caves, explains the artist.
“The eye is like a camera, and when there are light effects, it attracts the eye,” he says. “Butterflies are attracted to light. It causes happiness. It’s a source of life: Think of a life without the sun, it wouldn’t have happened.” 
The Light Festival in the Old City runs from June 6-14 from 8 p.m. to midnight, excluding Shabbat. More information is available at http://en.lightinjerusalem.org.il/2012.