Two years ago, Leo Kuelbs fell in love.
"I am in love," he said, "with that building." He aimed his affection straight at the Wyly Theatre. When you do what Kuelbs does, it's not so unusual to fall in love, even with buildings.
Kuelbs is the guiding force behind 3_Search, which returns Friday night to the Dallas Arts District to play a headlining role at the Aurora art event, which is held every two years. And once again, he has focused his passion on the alluring Wyly.
Kuelbs and his team will use the sleek, tubular, vertical skin of the Wyly to stage their elaborate, high-tech video presentation, but they've added a touch of romance. He has imported one of Europe's top opera singers and a high-profile dance VJ named N'conduit from Brooklyn, N.Y., to offer audio punctuation.
That is merely one sliver of the free seven-hour event, which launches at 7 p.m. Friday. Aurora will span six sections of the 68-acre Arts District and further define itself, in Kuelbs' words, as a national art extravaganza, one that he contends is on the verge of turning international in stature.
Aurora 2013 drew an estimated 30,000 people to the Arts District, which as a sprawling canvas is undergoing an even more radical transformation for 2015.
Combined with the growing profile of the Dallas Art Fair, the event is helping solidify Dallas, Kuelbs says, as a destination city in the global art community. "And Aurora," he says, "is much of what's driving that."
Catherine Cuellar, former executive director of the Dallas Arts District, calls Aurora "another pearl on the strand that is catching the eye of the national and global art community, in part because it's in the Dallas Arts District."
She compares it favorably to similar festivals that preceded it, Nuit blanche in Montreal and Vivid Sydney in Australia. Both, Cuellar says, are "larger-scale, longer-time, light-based art shows," but Aurora possesses an edge, "because they don't have the Dallas Arts District."
Aurora has helped morph the city into "a cultural tourism destination," she says, noting that friends of hers are flying in from Los Angeles and Austin to attend Friday night's event.
The theme of "All Together Now" has added to the mix four guest curators, whose birthplaces range from Hong Kong to Belgium to the Ukraine to Texas. They are working with resident curators and co-founders Shane Pennington and Joshua King to create six sections that flow from Klyde Warren Park on the north and west to One Arts Plaza on the east and south.
This year's event is presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center and supported by presenting sponsor energy provider Reliant. Its founding media partner is The Dallas Morning News.
The idea is to create separate and individual artistic statements within each of the six sections, but also have them flow together across the Arts District into a singular artistic experience.
Kuelbs says he and his team knew they had to top themselves for this year's presentation.
Noted coloratura soprano Elise Caluwaerts, who is flying in from Antwerp, Belgium, "will be singing a new composition," Kuelbs says, "that is written specifically for Aurora 2015. Her voice is going to be triggering media on the building. ... She will be singing, and the video will be reacting to her voice."
The rest of the Wyly presentation consists of high-tech "mapping" -- creating visual images via computer -- which captivated the Aurora crowd in 2013. Kuelbs' partner, John Ensor Parker, is curating that part of the show. In other words, Parker is the guy who will light up the Wyly.
And then there's the Budapest-New York animation and mapping collective known as Glowing Bulbs, headed by Farkas Fülöp, who will add the pizazz of the live VJ set from N'conduit.
"So as the night goes on," Kuelbs says, "there is always going to be something different. And this year, the entire show is going to be live, except, of course, for the mapping part."
Patron magazine once noted that 3_Search created in Berlin a "curatorial tour de force for Dom Pérignon, _Divine Coalescence, that promises to be a foreshadowing of what folks are likely to see gracing the walls of the Wyly. As a work, it left people weeping. It can only be assumed that's precisely the effect spectacular beauty flaring at night has on onlookers."
Looking for an encore
Like a musician whose first album was a knockout, Kuelbs and Co. are looking for an encore that provides an even bigger splash. One way to do that, they decided, was by adding sound, such as the kind that only an opera singer and trained veejay can provide. The operatic and VJ riffs will allow the ear to participate as much as the eye.
Parker says that "doing a big piece at an art festival" cuts two ways. First, the crowd includes people "who never ever go to museums or galleries," such as children. "So the art has to have a certain level of acceptability. But it also has to be fun and inspiring. Aurora is a very serious festival, especially in terms of artistic scope."
Kuelbs says Aurora is a search for "finding that sweet spot" via a highly artistic presentation that's going to endear itself to adults and children alike.
Not that they haven't had practice. The 3_Search team was involved in the New York Festival of Light, which Parker labels "on par" with Aurora, at least in terms of scale.
"The nice thing about Aurora," Parker says with a laugh, "is that we only do it every two years. Man, it takes so much effort. But we love it."