By Richard Campbell
Illuminous is an annual Downtown Crossing art event that draws a little larger crowd each year as the recovery process of the once moribund shopping district has been springing back to life. As far as art installations are concerned the show was a combination of conceptually challenging, space age beauty and quirky events. For its fourth annual installment it was a cold windy night this past Saturday, but nevertheless plenty of young people seemed to be having a good time.
Often the projections on the side of buildings are the most interesting part of this street art exhibit, as some of the interactive aspects were a little underwhelming. Jennymae Kho’s “New American Scholar”, as series of famous literary quotes and portraits from New England illuminated upon the Old Corner Bookstore was perhaps the most artful and carefully wrought. With portraits of Emerson, Theroux and the gang, interspersed with intriguing notions and big color graphics, it kept people fascinated for a significant period of time.
“My name translated is Strength” by Stephanie Benenson which was staged around the Irish Immigrant statue on the plaza in front of Walgreens created intricate blazing light patterns across the sky while an audio recording of immigrant experiences was running in the background. The story telling aspect was not as strong for this piece, but the abstract lighting was beautiful. “The Heart Hug” by Zobrulo Polylight, Ilya Sobol and Ivan Kabalin was a bright geometric interactive sculpture that reacted to people hugging, but most people didn’t seem to get it. The Antipode Tunnel had a line stretching for a whole block, so we passed it up.
Some of the displays that were interactive had an uncomfortable feeling to them. “Targeted” which was a triptych interactive screen had a dispatch unit’s radio chatter running loudly as you crossed in front of it to see your own image. The audio was obviously-perhaps too obviously- about profiling people. “Play” by Stephanie Houten was a video loop of a black light illuminated dancer who shook her bootie and danced around when you interacted with her. The colors were fun, I’m not so sure about the “dancing”. Several buildings on upper Washington had big kaleidoscope like graphic light shows running that were clever- like giant pinball machines in the sky.
The music is the weakest link, with the “Summer Street Brass Band” being the best in show. They played a good variety of songs and kept the crowd happy. What was missing was a real illuminated stage and a few more bands. The event on the whole is slightly haunting, because to facilitate the visualizing of the light on buildings the city had street lights covered, making it kind of dark in Downtown. Anyone who remembers how long it has taken to get Downtown Crossing to resemble a shopping district after its complete collapse is glad to see things coming back.
The city has done a great job with Washington Street with planters and signing. What could really spruce up Downtown Crossing would be to convince Emerson’s radio WERS to move into a sky booth over the square and broadcast out to the street- perhaps with their film and theatre program showing work on a big screen. Illuminous points towards the day when Downtown Crossing will have a cool public entertainment that takes advantage of technology and truly draws a crowd on a regular basis. The Rip Van Winkle effect is wearing off of Downtown Crossing, as the theatres and other entertainments on lower Washington Street have been bringing the crowds back.