Luminaria 2011 marked by coonskin guerrilla, inflatable sculpture

Luminaria will light up the night again this Saturday with music, theater, dance, street performers, poetry readings, and loads of visual art. It’s inspired by the Paris event Nuit Blanche (White Night) — a French term that also refers to pulling an all-nighter, a sleepless light-filled night, which is how the party in Paris rolls. Here in SA our version runs from 6:30 p.m. to midnight, and while shorter in duration than a true “white night,” it’s packed with action. The abundance of visual art and staggering number of participants — more than 1,000 — is a San Antonio twist.

Though restricted to the grounds of HemisFair Park, Luminaria has refined its operation by adding four teams of curators to its staff. “The quality of the art will be much higher this year,” said Kathy Armstrong, director of exhibitions at Southwest School of Art and one of Luminaria’s volunteer curators. “I have invited artists in that never would have participated before.”

Roughly half of all the participating artists have been sought out by the curatorial teams, while the roster is filled out by artists selected through a juried open call process. The emphasis this year is on site-specific work, or work that is at least site-sensitive, so artwork and performance will fill the many nooks and crannies of HemisFair Park this Saturday. For the first time the many small buildings, or casitas, will be utilized as project space for open call artists. Another new addition this year will be the inclusion of art by architects. As in other years, light — both actual and metaphoric — will flow through the night. Artistic Director Susanne Cooper assures us that last year’s colliding stages that filled the festival with “a cacophony of noise” will not reappear. Acoustic separation between music acts will be accomplished by programming less raucous groups and by spreading the event footprint throughout HemisFair Park.

It all starts with opening ceremonies behind the Magik Theatre on South Alamo. The back wall of the building will be washed with 3D projections throughout the night that will color the structure in changing fantastic permutations, the first such display of the new technology to occur in SA.

Though much of the performance will occur on stages, with offerings by Ballet San Antonio, Henry Brun & the Latin Playerz Orchestra, and the San Antonio Symphony (which will close out the night near the Institute of Texan Cultures between 11 p.m. and midnight), the curated areas and projects by local artists and performers may prove to be the most interesting fare during much of the fest.

Chris Sauter, a local artist with a national rep, is curating the prairie-style Women’s Pavilion, which has been empty since HemisFair in 1968. He was invited to assist in curation by SA artist Chuck Ramirez, who had assisted with artist placement in previous festival years and contributed his own innovative art to Luminaria. When Ramirez died in a tragic bicycle accident last fall, Sauter soldiered on with the project. Together Ramirez and Sauter chose the defining words “instillation, infiltration, infestation” to guide them in choosing the participating artists. Sauter plans to light the Women’s Pavilion, he said, “very crudely, using halogen lights — not at all the feeling of a gallery.” There will be much empty space, places for discovery.

One of the half-dozen artists and groups Sauter has chosen is Sharon Engelstein, who has made a 20-foot tall inflatable sculpture that glows from the inside, to be sited outside the Pavilion. A smaller work will be located inside the building. Karen Mahaffy’s work, also outside, will involve manipulated images of light and shadow with a slow-spinning drum casting flickers of light about. Sauter said Mahaffy’s work offers “a play between what is actually there and what is projected. Hopefully it will make the viewer question what is real.”

Be sure to keep an eye out for performance artist Jimmy James Canales, who will move throughout the fest wearing a Ghillie suit similar to the camouflage worn during the Vietnam War, but made of coonskin caps. Canales, whose work is known for playing with elements of Texas and Hispanic myth, will have his night’s character celebrated in song through a ballad written by Ken Little.

Mixing Texas culture with high modernism, Buster Graybill will present a deer blind in the style of De Stijl which may look a bit as if Piet Mondrian made it. Also look for Gary Sweeney’s TV set installs located around the park, and gratis jewelry handouts. There is too much to allude to here, but a program is available at the Luminaria website. •

Luminaria Arts Night



HemisFair Park

200 S Alamo

(210) 271-2842

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