Primal Source for Glow 2008 by Usman Haque
Like the iconic Southern California grunion, Glow comes to the shores of Santa Monica beach for but a brief moment—one night, to be exact—this Saturday. A one-night, all-night festival of the arts, Glow invites the public to experience that revered stretch of beach through the lens of 15 original installations and performances.
Inspired by the famous Nuit Blanche (“White Night”—or “Sleepless Night”) fest in Paris, and produced by the City of Santa Monica, Glow was the first “nuit blanche” event in the U.S. to present all specifically commissioned artworks. Moreover, these works are shown against the natural splendor of Santa Monica beach—and the Pacific Ocean beyond—thus embodying one of the most treasured benefits of living in Los Angeles: easy access to world-class culture in an exquisite natural setting.
The first Glow (July 2008) was wildly successful, attracting approximately 250,000 people, making it one of the best-attended one-day art events in California history. The second Glow (September 2010) employed a more arts-specific marketing approach that resulted in a smaller audience—a more manageable 150,000—that still represented a huge number for such a limited time period and certainly a larger attendance than many multi-month museum and gallery exhibitions.
One of Glow’s most notable aspects is its focus on site-specific works, a genre that has developed in the visual arts over the past 50 years. Prominent practitioners have ranged from Robert Irwin and James Turrell and their ephemeral light pieces to Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer (and Turrell as well) with their isolated monumental earth works. The mural tradition in Los Angeles is another example of artists creating art outside the studio; in and for specific public spaces.
Glow asks artists to make art that takes advantage of the opportunities offered by its setting—to the sand and the ocean, and to the enormous audience in attendance. Many Glow artworks involve advanced technology and invite the audience to participate in one form or another.
Past Glows have produced some extraordinary large-scale works. In 2008 British architect-artist Usman Haque realized Primal Source, for which a forty-foot high water-wall was created on the beach (requiring a 200-foot-long temporary reservoir of fresh water).A similarly ambitious—and participatory—project was Sandbox, created by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer for Glow 2010. Sandbox invited the audience into the artwork and projected images of visitors from one area to another, creating miniature and giant scaled figures with which the “live” audience engaged directly on the beach.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Sandbox
Glow 2013 features one project each by 15 artists, spread along a three-quarter mile stretch of beach adjacent to the historic Santa Monica Pier—from Crescent Bay Park on the south to just beyond the parking lot north of the Pier. One project will be sited on Palisades Park near the Pier entrance, two on the Pier itself, one in Crescent Bay Park, and all other projects on the beach.Each of the two Glows thus far has featured one major commission (Usman Haque in 2008 and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in 2010), and this year it is by Janet Echelman, whose enormous suspended transparent sculptures have been exhibited internationally to great acclaim. Echelman’s project, which is located near the terminus of Bay Street, involves several custom-made nets,each approximately 100 feet in diameter,that will be configured together in a geometric form suspended above the beach. The sand below the sculpture will be shaped into a complementary shape—negative to the nets’ positive and scooped out by earth-moving equipment.Dramatic lighting will accentuate the sculpture as it shifts and re-forms itself in response to the wind. Natural sounds captured from the adjacent ocean will further enhance the experience of a transparent enclosure.
Mathieu Briand making notes in the sand.
Paris-based artist Mathieu Briand’s installation 6:43 PM will take place on a large expanse of beach north of the pier. Here, visitors will enter a tunnel in the sand where they will come upon a “chamber of discovery.”A ring of fire will burn above the sunken space, serving as a sort of sentinel, an elemental nod to the power of the natural setting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Named for the exact time the sun sets on that day, the work will also serve as the space for two performances by the CalArts Javanese Gamelan ensemble under the direction of Djoko Walujo.The performances have been brought to Glowby one of its network partners, Cal Arts Community Arts Program (CAPS).
Glow will turn both the historic Santa Monica Carousel and the Pacific Wheel (the world’s largest solar-powered Ferris wheel) into works of art. The Rest Is Noise: A Carousel Ride Through the 20th Century—which was conceived by Patrick Scott and produced by Glow’s network partner Jacaranda, Music at the Edge—invites audience participants to ride the carousel while surrounded by 24 speakers, each of which will broadcast a major piece of 20th-century music, from Mahler to Adams. Riders will hear 12-second clips of musical selections as they revolve, with the experience of movement intensified by 100 years of music condensed into five minutes.
Victoria Vesna’s project, Octopus Mandala Glow (OMG!), will invite riders in the Pacific Wheel’s 20 gondolas to chant (or scream, or sing) along with a lead voice who will be positioned under the giant octopus sign that marks the entrance to the Pier’s fun zone. Wireless communication between the lead chanter and each of the gondolas will prompt riders, and their response will be translated into visual imagery on the 85-foot wide LED light system on the Ferris wheel, visible for miles along the beach.
Before coming to Glow, visit glowsantamonica.org for a map of the 15 works. That's also where you'll find information on dining, parking, transportation, bike valet locations, and other visitor amenities—there are downloadable apps custom-made by several Glow artists as integral parts of their projects, invluding an audio guide to Glow produced by KCRW that includes interviews with every artist along with a short musical selection.
Remember—when museums and galleries sleep, Glow happens.
- Marc Pally, artist and curator/administrator specializing in public art + artistic director of Glow