The movement of light

Whether with moving bodies in the space or not, Behar Perahia sees “Light- Space Pulsations” as a presentation of constant motion.

Pulsations at the Mishkan Museum (photo credit: DAVID BEHAR PERAHIA)
Pulsations at the Mishkan Museum
(photo credit: DAVID BEHAR PERAHIA)
When we enter a museum, most of us will notice the wide space. Among the grandest structures in our society, museums offer visitors a chance to step into broad expanses – architectural feats that we rarely meet otherwise in daily life.
What David Behar Perahia notices is the light. For the past decade, Behar Perahia, an acclaimed architect and artist, has researched natural light and its qualities. This month, he will close the “Light-Space Pulsations” exhibition, which has been open since late January at the Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod. The show, which brought a dream of Behar Perahia’s to life, inhabited the palatial spaces of the museum with a site- and light-specific project.
“This project takes the space as the object, the thing itself, not a canvas or background, it is the thing itself,” he explains.
“I’m looking at the object with its own architectural and sculptural qualities married with light, which changes all the time. The light changes, not just because of the movement of the sun over the sky but also because of a louver system that I’ve installed that controls the amount of light that can enter the space.”
The louver system, a set of blinds or slats, is recognizable from the home environs. However, Behar Perahia designed a system in which sensors trigger the response of the blinds, creating different lighting situations throughout the day.
“The light creates an element of surprise,” he explains. “You never know when the sensors will go off. The space then gets these different scenes or situations based on the light.”
In his career, he has managed to bridge the divide between art and science. Born in France and raised in Israel, he began his studies at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Having completed a degree in chemical physics and material science, Behar Perahia relocated to Britain, where he studied sculpture at Gloucester University. Returning to Israel, he completed his doctorate thesis on natural light in museum spaces, citing the Mishkan in Ein Harod as a key example.
The largest art space in Israel, Ein Harod is tucked away in a kibbutz in the north. Boasting unusual columns, the space was designed to maximize natural light.
“People come from all over the world to see this space,” he said.
“‘Light-Space Pulsations’ is a kind of a fantasy that finally became real. It came out of my PhD research. It took me many years to find the right moment to do it mostly because of the other side, which was not willing to accept something so unprecedented, to believe in an exhibition where there would be no artwork in the space itself.”
The movement created by the louver system combines with a nature-inspired soundtrack to make for an immersive sensory experience that challenges the notion that an exhibition must include art. Here, he relies almost exclusively on natural elements to convey his artistic vision, which is a type of choreography.
To enhance this element, he recently hosted two dance performances in the space last week. Performers moved through the space, reacting to and influences the light changes in their movement.
“The idea was to bring another element into this dialogue,” he says. “They were improvising with frames of movement in mind. Within that there was a lot of space for unprepared situations that they responded immediately to. The two performances were completely different from one another, which I loved,” he said.
Though his medium is largely static, Behar Perahia is an intuitive mover. For years, he has practiced contact improvisation and sees the connection between sculpture and dance to be nothing if not natural.
“I have been doing contact improvisation for eight years. My partner, who is one of the dancers, is a serious contact improviser. We met in a contact festival a while ago, so I am very close to this field. Improvisation is a junction that brings a lot of possibilities; you let the spark lead you and it brings life. It’s always challenging to bring the intimate experience of moving and touch into my work.”
Whether with moving bodies in the space or not, Behar Perahia sees “Light- Space Pulsations” as a presentation of constant motion.
“One of the themes of sculpture is gravity. When I see eternal structures, stones and petrified forms, I always look for the movement, the ephemeral aspects. When you see the columns in this space, the vertical and curved columns, there is a great possibility for movement, because the columns seem to be moving with you while you are walking around.”
“Light-Space Pulsations” is open through April 22 at the Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod. For more information, visit