By Jason Lipshin
Glow is one of those art festivals that doesn’t feel like an art festival. When I first heard about the event from my boyfriend, I was imagining a night out on the town with the stereotypical art crowd – brightly colored scarves, turtleneck sweaters, horn-rimmed glasses, and the like. And yet while these folks were certainly present (I was probably one of the key offenders…), there were also kids and grandparents eating hot dogs, brass bands playing atop horses on a merry-go-round, and even a few frat boy types peeking curiously into each exhibit. It felt like art, participation, and fun all at the same time – a welcome vacation from the sterile, white walls of the gallery space.
With exhibits scattered along the Santa Monica Pier like a game of connect-the-dots, Glow was an event that took advantage of its site specificity. Rather than merely projecting video onto a screen or even a wall, Glow sought innovative canvases for projection: old brick buildings, billboards, even surfaces as cosmic as the sea and the sky. One installation featured a “sculpture” composed from a lifeguard tower overflowing with soapy bubbles. By using a material that is obviously far less resistant than marble, over the course of the night the sculpture became much more “event” than “product,” decomposing with even the slightest puff of wind.
Another one of my favorite exhibits was Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Sandbox – a project that played with the potentials of scale and light in innovative ways. The exhibit made use of two sandboxes: one that was the typical size that you and I played in as kids, and the other as big as a basketball court. In the regular sized sandbox, people placed objects like dollar bills and coke cans, shuffling them around as they saw fit; but in real-time, they also saw their images projected at exponentially larger scales in the big sandbox where other people were playing. Recognizing the interplay between these differently scaled spaces led to some incredibly clever games like when kids tried to capture ten-foot-long dollar bills by flinging their whole bodies at the projected representations. At one point, I was even standing in the palm of a stranger’s hand before being playfully smashed into oblivion!
With upwards of twenty-five exhibits which stayed open late into the early morning, attending Glow felt much more akin to a night in a theme park than a night in a gallery space. Although Glow is only in its second year, and thus, has not yet established itself as a regular, annual event for the city of Santa Monica (underfunding is, of course, a familiar problem for public art), the festival certainly seemed to bring a sense of magic and possibility back to what many would consider to be the most fundamental and well-worn of preoccupations: light. To patrons from all walks of life (myself included), Glow, thus, seemed to achieve that rarity in art – not merely presenting an audience with an object of genius, but encouraging them to interact with each other and the fundamental elements of their environment in ways that they would never think of in everyday life.
If interested, you can check out more documentation of the festival here!