Glow '08: Blinded by the Light

It looked almost like a candlelight vigil, hushed and serene, faces shining in a soft yellowish green light. A hundred people knelt, cupped their hands around the neon glow sticks stuck like weeds into the sand, and moved them to new positions, shifting the front row to the back. It was an oddly quiet moment on this Saturday night in Santa Monica, where, yards away, the thumping beats of KCRW DJs and the jingle of a carousel drifted over the pier. From the boardwalk, the glimmering mass of glow sticks appeared to imitate the rising tide.

The all-night Glow ’08, modeled after the annual Nuit Blanche (“White Night”) art and music festival in Paris, included 16 art installations, as well as drumming and dance groups, DJs and an orchestra perched atop the Pacific Wheel.

What the 16 commissions had in common (other than that they glowed) was interactivity. “Illumination Migration,” the glow-stick garden created by Frank Rozasy, allowed visitors to weave throughout the neat neon lines. Infranatural’s “Amazing Mental Scope” used an EEG device to measure electrical activity in festival-goers’ brains and displayed multicolored lights and patterns that corresponded to participants’ emotions. “Tagtool,” a piece submitted by O.M.A. International and KCRW, enabled visitors to draw on an electronic game pad that was simultaneously projected onto a stage.

The visitors themselves were a mixed bag. Ravers covered in glow-in-the-dark paint break-danced on the boardwalk. Hippie-style 40somethings dug their bare feet into the sand, nodding along blankly to the all-female African dance troupe nearby and offering joints to all who passed. A group of college students in pink stunna shades and green Afro wigs joined hands and skipped through the packed pier parking lot, while Santa Monica’s resident homeless attempted to sleep on benches, ignoring the hundreds of people gathered on the sand. A small tent city, built of blankets and beach towels and empty beer bottles, slowly appeared as visitors resolved to stay for Glow’s 12-hour duration, until the 7 a.m. closing.

Orchestra musicians, confined to the cars of the Ferris wheel, faded in and out as they revolved, moving closer to, then farther from, the listeners below. Nearby, kids clutching cotton candy gathered around what looked like a clump of oversized packing peanuts — a puffy white igloo. Functioning as a moon bounce, the “Dunnage Ball” was made of 30 inflated dunnage bags (used to stabilize freight) and radiated an ethereal blue glow. Inside, the structure wobbled each time another toddler threw himself against the spongy walls.

“We actually wanted it to roll around, but the producers didn’t really like that idea,” said Leigh Jerrard, an artist with Peter Tolkin Projects. “I mean, it’s already kind of a liability risk.” He sat down on an inflated dunnage bag and bobbed up and down as a teenage boy in a glow-in-the-dark visor somersaulted behind him.

In the early morning hours, with the Ferris wheel halted and the glow-stick garden abandoned, the ravers dwindled to a few lone break dancers, and tired carnival-goers napped on the shore. Cigarette butts, broken glass and plates sticky with leftover funnel cake littered the sand. The Dunnage Ball, deflated and lying in a limp heap, had been hijacked by some teenage hipsters, who now used it as a mattress. By daybreak, the glowing neon art installations were muted by the foggy morning light. Only Nova Jiang and Michael Kontopoulos’ “Moon Theater,” a movie screen in the shape of a full moon displaying a series of animations, remained lit.

At 6 a.m., 80 or so stragglers were left. Some were passed out on blankets; a few engaged in early morning yoga on the beach. Drumbeats sounded, indicating the closing ceremony. Dressed in white ruffles and bearing aloft baskets of flowers, the women of the Viver Brasil Dance Company began a procession from the pier entrance down to the water. The remaining carnival-goers followed, surprisingly energetic in their 12th straight hour of partying. As the dancers ran into the water, a rejuvenating cheer broke out among those on the beach. It’s a testament to Angelenos’ endurance that they woke up smiling and ready to dance in honor of Brazilian ocean spirits.

—Anna Feuer


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