Light Shines on at Budapest

The second show at the Light Art Museum Budapest (LAM) which opened in September 2023 continues till May 2024 and features some stunning representations of light art – a contemporary art form that is fast gaining popularity. By Amrita Shah

The Hold Street Market or Downtown Market Hall in Budapest, a short walk from the Parliament, was built in 1892 under the rule of the Hungarian monarchy. In 2022 the Budapest Light Art Museum took over the space and launched their opening with ‘Light Revolution’ featuring works by Hungarian artists who are considered pioneers in the field of light art.

The original structure of the market hall remains untouched; the exposed brick façade and arched entranceway with its embellished keystone lead into a voluminous space covered with a delicately metal trussed roof towering three floors above, with what were the smaller stalls wrapped around the edge of the building, and the central space acting like an internal courtyard.

Superluminal, the second show to be hosted here opened in September 2023. Curated by Barnabás Bencsik and Borbála Szalai, and assisted by Dalma Kovács, the 40 or so artworks displayed here by local and international artists may have light at their centre, but their definition of light goes well beyond the visible spectrum of seen by the human eye. Exploring various themes from supernovas to black holes, from artificial nature to parallel universes, from programmed neural networks to radiating glass objects and from the Northern Light enclosed in crystalline structures to the choreography of light on the retina, the artworks on display seek new perspectives within and beyond the realms of visibility. On display are mechanized installations, time lapse videos, as well as interactive and immersive light constructions made by some of the most acclaimed internationally studios creating immersive projections such as the Zünc Studio from London, the Nohlab from New York, as well as fuse* and the NONE Collective from Italy. Also of note are the original or authentically reconstructed works of the foremost artists of Hungarian origin, such as László Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes, Victor Vasarely, Nicolas Schöffer and Vera Molnar.

For Superluminal, the exhibition spaces have been converted into total black boxes, each exhibit displayed inside a dark cubicle so the works do not detract from each other. Walking in the dimly lit maze, one is automatically drawn from one exhibit to the next, the lights acting like a beckoning beacon in the dark. The majestic sense of space of the gallery is only evident from the top level. Not that it matters – once you enter the gallery, an immense fabric blimp-like structure emanating light and rapidly changing images dominates the space.


This is the immersive experience Journey (2019) by New York based Nohlab which tells the story of photons – the primary elements of light, from the moment they approach the eye until the brain reconstructs them into perceivable forms. Stepping into the sphere-like structure which has a mirrored floor, the projection encapsulates you, beginning with the formation of photons which then approach the eye and the viewer is immersed in the capillary structure of the iris.

The pace accelerates as the projection takes the viewer first towards the crystalline structure of the lens (depicted through a mesmerizing series of fractals), and then onto the optic nerve where the photons become signals for the brain to interpret. Finally, the light begins to generate explicit forms and perceptible images and a running human form appears.

Glowing Columns

Directly in front of the entrance is a set of glass tubes that change colour from orange to red and then go dark, while seemingly suspended in mid air. Glowing Columns (1973) by the famed Hungarian painter and photographer György Kepes (1906-2001) is a light installation comprising glass tubes filled with helium, a steel support structure. and a time switch.

Inspired by heating filaments of a toaster, this was conceptualized to showcase the new devices that accompanied the development of modern technology. Exhibited for the first time at the Museum of Science in Boston at the artist’s retrospective exhibition, this piece is an authentic recreation on loan from the collection of the Kepes Institute, Eger.


The real-time audiovisual installation by fuse* entitled Multiverse.unfolded (2018) is inspired by the multiverse theory – a speculative theory in physics and cosmology that describes a system made up of an infinite number of universes existing in parallel with our space-time – a theory made immensely popular through the new generation Marvel movies.

The continuously self-renewing audiovisual installation is based on generative graphics and sounds, and examines the evolution of an infinite number of possible universes. Stand in the centre of the room so the images are projected on you and you become part of the story, or watch from afar – either way the piece is captivating.

The Power of Light Attraction

Maotik’s Swarm Field: The Power of Light Attraction, (2023), is a interactive installation that invites the audience to illuminate transparent paper blooms suspended on cables using a movement sensor. Representing a new form of ‘natural’ habitat that shaped and distorted by industrial influence, this work is a commentary on industrial growth and the impact of urban light pollution on insect population and the resilience of the natural world.

Hold your hand a few inches above the sensor and make the ‘insects’ flutter across the piece looking for a new place to settle, while the light cast on the installation changes ominously from blue to red.


Hungarian media artist Vera Molnár passed away on 7 December 2023, a month short of her 100th birthday. She is a pioneer of computer art and generative art. Her OTTWW (Ode to the West Wind) (1981 – 2010) is an uninterrupted and complex line running across the walls of the room in the form of a UV-sensitive thread stretched by nails. Inspired by the classic poem Ode to the West Wind by 19th-century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the artist translated the poem into an enigmatic algorithm which she then represented with glowing lines.


Supernova (2012) by Kit Webster is an impactful laser projection depicting a supernova – the final explosion of a star. At the core of the work is a small glass sphere suspended in the centre of the black box, which, in a given moment, makes the light illuminating it explode into its primary elements and scatters it into every direction of dark space, representing the violence of the explosion.

The artwork displayed also explores the invisible ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum: radioactive radiation, analogue and digital image as well as sound radiation such as cosmic frequencies and the very low frequencies of nature on earth. The hierarchy examined between scientific, speculative, and metaphysical approaches gives way to examining critical approaches between humans and nature, ranging from photosynthesis through synthetic sunshine, the environmental effects of light pollution to sunshine exploited and turned into a commodity.

Life Support

In the installation Life Support System, [Ecosystem services estimation experiment] (2020) by Disnovation.Org, one square metre of wheat is cultivated in a closed environment and critical inputs such as water, light, heat, and nutrients are measured, monitored and displayed to the public to explain the contribution of the ecosystem and act as a reference for the undervalued and overexploited ‘work’ of the biosphere.


Justine Emard’s installation Supraorganism (2020) was interestingly developed using data collected from a community of bees, and is a reactive installation composed of robotic glass sculptures animated by a machine learning system (an artificial intelligence). Approximately 20 robotic glass sculptures as suspended on a stainless steel structure. Ambient sensors pick up variations caused by the visitors and adapts to their presence like an artificial life form. The sculptures seem to come to life, glowing and producing chirping sounds like a symbiotic organized being (much like bees in a hive), colliding in a structured, organic, and floating constellation that appears magical.

The question the curators served to answer through the show is this – since the speed of human perception is by far slower than the speed of light, how would our view of the world change if humans were able to perceive things outside their ability. How would we see the world from a Superluminal position? The artistic approaches in Superluminal take perception to far unexplored structures – even faster than the speed of light – and thus potentially recontextualise the physical phenomenon of light itself.

Art should create a dialogue; it should inspire, create a sense of wonder. Superluminal does not disappoint – the show mesmerizes and completely involves all who visit.

Photographs: Dávid Biró, courtesy LAM