Luminaria, San Antonio's version of the Nuit Blanche (White Night) art event that started began in Paris in the 1982, is happening again this Saturday, March 9 in its sixth annual iteration. Since its inception in Europe, the concept of a night filled with art and light has spread to form events around the world, from Canada to Asia. Typically, the art night in other cities features several very large (and costly) installations, some food, and perhaps a bit of music and dance. Of course, this being SA, we do things differently — with a populist spin. Here, everything is local. And here the arts represented aren't all visual, though there is an emphasis on light.Disciplines included are organized into categories including media, literary arts, visual arts, dance, theater and performing art, and music.
This year artists have again been invited from out of town and the country, but the event is, says Southwest School of Art curator and Luminaria associate director, "organized by the San Antonio arts community." Many — over 600 —artists will participate (along with 85 bands and projects) in the art party that begins at 7 p.m. in HemisFair Park, Alamo Street, the Arneson River Theatre, and rolls on to midnight. Expect a large number of visitors, too. Last year, over 315,000 people attended the event.
Every year some things change. Begun in San Antonio at the prompting of then-Mayor Hardberger, the first Luminaria was held in the streets and buildings near the Alamo. Later moved to HemisFair Park, the event has changed how artists are chosen several times, though as is true this year, there has always been a strong concern to allow local artists to participate, and they have, whether by responding to the open artists call, or by being curated in directly.
This year the footprint of the event has shifted from last year, moving west. The large stage out in the southeast section of the park? Gone. Also gone are the fire balloons used in the closing ceremonies, due to safety concerns by the fire marshal. While we don't mind seeing some change, we do hope the authorities allow some use of fire in staged performances. As we go to print, news on that decision is still pending. Also changed is the area for the food court and trucks, which has shifted from the back edge towards the center of the park, south of the Instituto Cultural de Mexico.
Most importantly, performance sets will be longer — a relief, no doubt, for both performers who had to scurry on and off with little time on stage, and for the audience, too, who will be treated with more air time, and less dead air. To do this, fewer acts will perform, but it sounds like a good call. Eight stages will accommodate the musical and theatrical performances.
There will also be mobile fringe events, such as a barge on the river crewed by SAY Sí students and faculty, and a roving art car from the Art Cars of Houston, which will drive about the downtown. With dozens of performances and installations, it's impossible mention every artist or group. Here are a few that intrigued us.
Meow Wolf, which bills itself as a "multimedia immersive art experience," is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an international art destination that, unlike SA, is not known for its local art scene. But they are changing all that. With a fluctuating group that hovers around 40 people, they mount two or three "experiences" each year, and have staged them in around the mountain town, including in prestigious art centers like SITE Santa Fe. At Luminaria, Meow Wolf will take over the entire Women's Building with eight different exhibits. Light based, they will utilize dynamic digital light effects, new media, and black light, and a performed poem telling of an individual traveling through a storm. But, we are warned by a member, "We don't want people to think of this as a performance."
When I hear "art cars," I tend to think of several things. First, the originals: lowriders and hot rods. Then cars that artists paint up, or go berserk on adding hydraulics (usually they have some lowrider mechanic friends to help make it happen). Then, art cars decorated by kids. Art Cars of Houston seem to be a different category. Creators of Houston's GlowOrama and the New Year's Eve GlowParade, now one of the Oil City's signature events, these cars excel in pyrotechnics, and we sincerely hope are allowed to do what they do best: belch fire. If all goes as planned, fireballs will be shooting on South Alamo Street Saturday night. Walk by the street near the north part of the park to see the cars, and keep an eye out for fireballs. They may be campy, but they're fun.
Also performing on the street will be The Aesthetic of Waste, a performance group based at The Overtime Theater, which specializes in super-short crafted pieces with curious intentions. On one project, they endeavored to write pieces that were so funny, people would forget to laugh (no, that was not a child's joke). The rule was if people laughed, they would throw out the script and try again. But it really had to be funny. Smiles were allowed. At Luminaria they will stage a performance on South Alamo of the Futurist Manifesto, written by slightly nuts Italian artist F.T. Marinetti in 1909. The Futurists did some neat projects, like staging a concert in Russia using the city as an orchestra, making sounds with church bells and factory whistles, but they adored machines, speed, and progress. They got their way when all that went big time during the First World War. During the performance, motorized vehicles and bicycles will describe a figure-8 on the street, while the group does a marathon performance, reading Marinetti's tract. If all goes as planned, things should start falling apart before too long. See? That's funny, and I bet you didn't laugh.
Not all the art will be gonzo. Some visual art installations will be meditative instead of spectacle. Kate Temple is a New York City-based painter who creates luminous canvases that read as reflected light on water and clouds, or quiet places in the mind. She also makes site-specific installations utilizing material elements from the local environment she is visiting. An installation in Turkey featured a bed of flowers. For her San Antonio piece, that will happen in one of the casitas just west of the Women's Building. Temple has had natural pigments—clays from the San Antonio River—collected by friends living here in SA and shipped to her studio on the East Coast. There is a story and a message, but you will have to come out this Saturday night to find out what it is. You can download the complete artist and performance schedule from the Luminaria website at luminariasa.org.
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