Los Angeles

Illuminating Santa Monica: GLOW 2013

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Originally started as an arts and cultural community-based biennial oceanfront art festival, Glow has become the city's signature cultural event and one of the world's largest nighttime public art-based events. In a city with very minimal public art, Glow is an amazing night in artistic lives in Santa Monica. With more than 40 percent of Santa Monica's population working in the arts, Glow has grown into a mature and viable source for contemporary art and innovation on this beachside community.

The 2008 edition of the biennial Glow event--it's first incarnation--drew more than 200,000 visitors, according to organizers. This biennial art event reached far beyond any of the organizer's expectations. The reviews of past Glows have been mixed, but this year, the organizers have sharpened their efforts to the impressive and expansive fine art installations that will be featured, and fixed many of the damaging setbacks of past Glow events.

Image from past Glow festival, in Santa Monica.

According to Alie Ward from the Los Angeles Times, "Glow's [original] promises of all-night music sets and luminous outside artworks drew 10 times the expected crowd [in the first year], with nearly a quarter-million people flooding Santa Monica Beach. The result was a boardwalk clogged with people, installations too intimate to be seen over the mobs and a sense of bitter disappointment. The music was shut off. The pier was closed down. A glow-stick exhibit was plundered by rowdy attendees. Kids showed up on the beach expecting a rave and DJs instead of an art festival."

Installation at Glow, 2010. | Image courtesy of Glow.

Installation at Glow, 2010. | Image courtesy of Glow.

The festival was originally created as an all night event, going from 7 pm to 7am, and joined such cities as Paris, Toronto, Montreal, Rome, Brussels, Madrid and Riga as part of a global movement producing a "white night" through art, or "nuit blanche" events. It was intended to create a unique Santa Monica art event that gave art an approachable and interactive environment. But, after the first couple years, the crowds, the mess and the noise helped the organizers gauge what to do to tame this expansive event. They had designed Glow to involve performances, musical acts, DJ sets, and nighttime art installations, as an all-inclusive kind of festival, but that proved to be a challenge for Santa Monica.

As Catherine Wagley pointed out in her L.A. Weekly article on the upcoming Glow festivities, the coverage of Glow has been varied--to say the least, and "among the scant coverage of the 2010 [Glow] event was an L.A. Times article that quipped, 'Thinking ... may be optional, as many of the projects are geared toward fun.'"

2010 Glow. | Image courtesy of Glow.

This year, the third iteration of Glow, is from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., still giving ample amount of time for attendees to make it to all the art installations, but keeping the all-night-party inclination to a minimum. Security has been amped up quite a bit, parking access has been improved, shuttles arranged, interactive maps and apps available to aid you in your Glow journey, and the interactive aspects of the art installations are easier to understand and accessible for all visitors.

The lack of professional sincerity and art-museum-quality seriousness in visitors attending Glow in the past may be, in part, due to its location on the beach and the atmosphere of the casual, bright, interactive and public artworks involved. However, the artists contributing to Glow 2013 bring a much heavier weight to the intention and seriousness of this art event. Award-winning fine artists have been commissioned, and many of whom are involving the visitors in a new and interesting way. Many of the art installations and art works have never been seen before, and most of which may never be seen anywhere else. This year's interactive art is not just a petting zoo, or a photobooth, or a treasure hunt--although they do have a treasure hunt of sorts, with Jedediah Caesar's More Currency for Micronations, thanks to LAXART's collaboration--this year features some of the most interesting contemporary artists in the global art world right now.

Rendering for Steven Boyer's Colorfields, for Glow festival. | Image courtesy of artist.

Steven Boyer's interactive installation for this year's Glow is like a technologically savvy interpretation of Magic Eye stereograms, come to life. Visitors are invited to download the Smartphone app (available at colorfields.org or in the Apple App Store) and depending on where they are within the 10,000 square-foot Colorfields area at Glow, they will be able to see playful colors all around them, using their device.
"The Colorfields at Glow [are] an instrument of light and sound that is performed by the participants who inhabit its space. I have geo-tagged a 40,000 square foot zone on the beach with areas of animating color and sound," Boyer explains. "Participants will create a field of color and sound that is larger than themselves. Data collected from the phones and overhead video will be projected on the wall of the Wyndham Hotel so that viewers can experience the intimacy of being 'inside' the work while on the beach and 'outside' the work by viewing the video projection."

Digital Rendering of Steven Boyer's <em>Colorfields</em>, for Glow. Image courtesy of artist.

Boyer's work touches on contemporary popular obsession with screen-living, but also reaches deeper into visitors' psyche to consider who or what is watching vs. being watched. "I have been working on 'Mass Synchronization' technologies for the past six years and believe that we are at a critical evolutionary stage in regards to our electronic prostheses. There is no question that these prostheses will continue to shape us profoundly. The question is whether they will enable the evolution of an ever more empathic network or whether they will turn us into an inter-nation of cyborg narcissists."
Though the integration of our cyborg narcissism may be inevitable, Boyer's massive Colorfields plan on making this year's Glow a much easier art experience to access, even with the hoards of people and vast beach setting. "My work aims to reclaim the physical environment by drawing the medium back into the space of the viewer. Rather than look at your own screen while participating in Colorfields we encourage viewers to point their screens away from them and contribute them to the crowd."

Vesna modeling the OMG crown on the pier, for OMG project, for Glow. | Image courtesy of artist and Glow.

Victoria Vesna is a provocative contemporary So Cal artist, and is mesmerizing people with her fascination and integral collaboration of science. She works with media and focuses on interactive artworks that immerse the audience and put them in the center of the work, demanding action or reaction on some level. Vesna is a professor in UCLA's Department of Design, Media Arts and Director of the Art|Sci center at the School of the Arts and California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI). She has had over twenty solo exhibitions, more than seventy group shows in her career, and by the looks of it, is only getting more and more successful. Together with her team Vesna is developing the Octopus Mandala Glow (OMG) project for this year's Glow event. The OMG project is designed for the famous Pacific Wheel, the solar-powered ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.

"Octopus Mandala Glow" light installation on Pacific Wheel, for Glow festival. | Image courtesy of Glow.

"OMG is a celebration of the end of the dominion of the machine (we are not cogs in a wheel!) and invites people to occupy their ferris wheels around the world and record themselves at the top of the wheel saying 'Oh My God! (OMG!)' or chanting 'OM(G).' The collective chorus of voices will be played on the beach and streamed online. This is the premiere with a goal of launching a series of projects with ferris wheels as mandalas around the world." Vesna has managed to involve the public in Marseille, New York and Sydney in chanting and singing at the tops of other monumental ferris wheels across the world. This installation is not only massively detailed, but it is fundamentally interactive in an approachable way for all visitors. Staying modern and technologically innovative in her practice, Vesna constantly reinvents her processes and materials, forcing viewers and participants to appreciate the tech-savvy integration of art, technology and the simple human senses.

"Riding in eight of the Wheel's 20 gondolas, the audience will be offered an opportunity to wear an LED octopus crown and/or share the tentacles and when the top is reached with a full 360 view of Santa Monica to exclaim "Oh My God" or chant for something or someone," Vesna describes. "For a moment he/she is king/queen and their voice is amplified for those on the beach to hear. These voices will be added to those who already recorded their experiences on the Marseille Grande Roué, the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island, the Seattle wheel and the Luna Wheel in Sydney--smaller events designed to extend the experience to a sense of global community and become part of the human mandala."

Vesna modeling the OMG crown, for "OMG" project, for Glow. Image courtesy of artist and Glow.

Vesna's work often approaches the relationship between science and art, with attention to the human experience, and the shifting perceptions of identity, in relation to scientific innovation and our evolving technological advancements. "2013 is also the last year of my three year summer residency at l'IMéRA (Institute Méditerranéen de Recherches Avancées). I plan to continue work on Sounds of Thinking in relation to Brain Storming with neuroscientist Constance Hammond."

Her OMG will be the first fine art installation to fully take over the city's Pacific Wheel, and will be able to be viewed at a distance as well as up close.

bioluminescent plankton; part of what Glenn Kaino will be using in his "Well" installation at Glow.

Glenn Kaino is creating a clear wishing well filled with living bioluminescent water. His work is often described as "poetic contradictions" or "impossible sculptures," Kaino's art is often imbued with a dichotomy of some kind, or juxtaposition in concept, and aesthetics. In some of his better-known works, Kaino incorporates a kind of magic, or trickery in his practice. As a illusionist in his free time, and a magician member of the notorious Magic Castle, Kaino finds intrigue and inspiration in illusion and secrecy. It is somewhere in this study of secrecy that Kaino came up with Well.

Glenn Kaino

Kaino's Well is a psychedelic and deep-sea inspired wishing well, which will be installed on the sand, midway between the Sea Castle Apartments and Shutters Hotel. Though the well may not be as deep as a traditional well, it will function as a magic and wonderous location for wishes and dreams, interacting with the public and taking shape and changing colors with every wish. Inside Well is a rare bioluminescent liquid, specifically harvested from plankton for the Glow event, by a marine biologist at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UCSD. The well is constructed out of translucent plastic, allowing passersby to also participate in the project by witnessing people's wishes transform in the glowing water.

Kaino's fascination in this artwork is really how people interact with the well, the performative aspects of the action of making a wish and the experience of witnessing a visual and visceral reaction to another person's wish. "I've done a lot of work with secrecy. And in the same way, the wishing well is a place where secrets have been generated, and nobody knows what those wishes are," Kaino says.

In a billowing, amorphous and glowing installation, artist Janet Echelman takes installation to a whole new level. Echelman has transformed outdoor areas across the globe with her glowing, netted sculptural installations in Denver, Sydney, Amsterdam, Phoenix, Madrid and many other cities. Her swaying netting glows in the night sky like an interpretation of the Aurora Boreales. Originally a painter, Echelman has been working with nets since a residency in India. Left without materials when her shipment of paints went astray, she turned this mishap into inspiration as she watched local fishermen at work.

Installation at the Amsterdam light festival by Janet Echelman

Echelman's breathtaking installations often span more than 75,000 square feet and influence urban silhouettes in the cities they are installed, giving residents a chance to participate in and witness contemporary installation art, for thousands of people at a time.

Echelman's digital rendering of "The Space Between Us," blue, for Glow. Image courtesy of artist and Glow.

For Glow, Echelman created The Space Between Us, a new site-specific commissioned installation for the nighttime art event. The piece will extend from the end of the boardwalk in Santa Monica to Bay Street, with a 200-ft-diameter aerial sculpture, which will move and sway with the oceanfront winds. Beneath it, the sand will be carved to reflect the aerial form as well, and paired with an audio component that is aimed at helping to create a space of tension between the sand and the sky.

Crowd shot form Glow 2012. | Image courtesy of Aaron Paley and Glow.

Paris-based artist, Mathieu Briand is creating a site-specific homage to the sun for this year's Glow. Just north of the Santa Monica Pier, Briand's sculpture will be constructed of six large cargo-shipping containers that will be buried in the sand, only with the tops of the containers peaking out. On the top of this mountain of nature-demolished temple, there will be a gas-fueled fire ring, held up by specially constructed scaffolding, towering high above head, with the burning ring of fire at its peak, resembling the legacy and remnants of the sun, which will have just set at the beginning of this event, at 6:43pm--which is also the title for Briand's piece.

Mathieu Briand's rendering for "6:43" installation, for Glow.

This sand temple will be accessible to view and visit, though it will be mostly covered by sand, and visitors are invited to come inside, where music of Aram Khatchaturian can be heard, and a faint glow of white light will draw you in further. The inside of the temple will be mostly dark, with the emphasis on the moon, rather than the sun, like the outside of temple. There will be a magical interpretation of the moon inside the temple, drawing on our relationship with the moon in fictional and non-fictional ways.

Mathieu Briand's rendering of "6:43," for Santa Monica's Glow festival. | Image courtesy of Glow.

"I had this idea of, like, a mad-man temple after nuclear war, built out of shipping containers, because we can find them anywhere in the world," Briand says. The journey of creating this temple has been as much a part of the experience as the piece itself has been, for Briand. Starting last week, they have been moving one shipping container at a time by a four-wheel-drive loader onto metal plates already positioned in chasms dug into the beach. Briand and Glow's Art Director Marc Pally had to hunt down these containers and slowly find a way to bring them to the Santa Monica coast for this massive construction. "It's not to do something spectacular. I never think about that," Briand says of the installation at Glow. "We have so much spectacle, 3-D movies and other things." Alternately, Briand hopes that people will find themselves in the space between reality and imagination.

Briand is one of many French artists to participate in Glow over the years. Each iteration of Glow has included a French artist to further connect with Nuit Blache in Paris. Paris has been working on bringing its art history into the contemporary realm, by involving the pubic in art and events like Nuit Blanche, and Santa Monica has taken the cue from Paris.

Nuit Blanche, Paris. | Image courtesy of Nuit Blanche.

Nuit Blanche, Paris. | Image courtesy of Nuit Blanche.

For an art driven area like Southern California, the fun artistic exploration and illumination taking place on September 28 on Santa Monica's beach is looking like it will be one of the best local art events in recent years.

Visit www.glowsantamonica.org for more information.


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Top Image: Glow will transform Santa Monica's beach for one night only.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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