black image with square-shaped pink light in the center

I.R. Bach, Entity AMHQL170614 -015236-01, Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl, 2017 © I.R. Bach, photo courtesy of the artist

The Lights on the Mountain

October 5, 2020

Since 2007, artist I.R. Bach has been making trips to the volcanic fields outside of Mexico City to study mysterious lights appearing in the mountains. There has been much local speculation about the origin of this phenomenon, but Bach is not setting out to solve mysteries. Rather than pursuing scientific explanations, his work conveys the remarkable experience of witnessing such a thing. He describes the feeling of wonder in seeing the lights for the first time:

"...when they appeared in the sky, it became clear to me that this extraordinary phenomenon was not a natural occurrence. I stood in awe, transfixed in a way that I had not experienced since childhood, when a single feeling could alter my worldview. Yet doubt quickly followed, because what my eyes were telling me went against common sense."

This feeling of doubt is something any spectator may have, but skepticism is left for the viewer to negotiate. Although Bach was logging the appearances of the lights, and documenting them with a low-light camera, his output offers no explanations of their appearance as much as it presents a record of their existence. The images avoid any speculation one might have, going to the core of the phenomenon, and triggering the same initial impulse of wonder that ultimately drives our curiosity, our questions, and, ultimately, our beliefs.

Seeking to emulate the phenomenon, Bach staged a mirror performance in Los Angeles's eastern hills, creating a triangular light drawing that visitors could view from the balcony of LACMA's BCAM building. Looking northeast from the museum, one could see one, then two, then three lights flashing in the distance. What message were they sending? To paraphrase Bach, two lights could be random, but three lights together conveys intent. It says, "We are here."

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