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The 13 Best Light Art Installations at Light City Baltimore 2017

Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts

As night falls on Baltimore City, the lights go on around the Inner Harbor. Though these aren’t just any lights. These are world-class artistic installations taking light and technology to the limit: a larger-than-life jewel-toned egg, a flock of glowing origami birds, an enormous house of cards. Light City Baltimore 2017, now in its second year and running until April 8, is the nation’s first international festival of light, following in Baltimore’s long tradition of light. The first gas lamps in the United States were illuminated in Baltimore, after all, changing the urban landscape forever. Twenty-three art installations decorate a 1.5-mile BGE Light Art Walk around the Inner Harbor, with eight more neighborhoods boasting special installations as well. Some take on important issues, such as racial inequality and undocumented youths. Others are more whimsical. All are just plain Wow. Here are the best.Barbara Noe Kennedy

Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: The Ovo Collective, featuring Mostafa Hadi, Pol Marchandise, Koert Vermeulen and Marcos Viñals Bassols, 2010

Materials: Wood, LED lights

Like a gigantic Fabergé egg, the larger-than-life Ovo seemingly floats on water, changing colors from ruby to sapphire to emerald amid mystical clouds of vapor. That’s amazing enough. But then, you’re invited inside the egg, literally walking across the water to get there. The Belgian artists, OVO Collective, promised the sense that you’ve vanished into a metaphysical mist.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: CS Design and Lateral Office, 2015

Materials: Aluminum, LED lights, acrylic

Where else are you encouraged to unleash your inner kid and play on a seesaw? Hop on one of 15 seesaws in varying sizes, each of which is programmed with motion sensors that track your movement, as well as your speed. The light is triggered, and as you float through the air a soundtrack serenades you—becoming all the more richer as more and more seesawers participate in what the Canadian artists call a “collective [of] urban sounds.”

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Communication Gaps

Artist: GSP Studio (Gregory St. Pierre), 2017

Materials: LED, plywood, plexiglass, mirror film, Kinect sensors, sound

Colorful, neon-lit rectangular frames bob on the water of a canal, crafting a pleasing-to-the-eye tableau. But there’s more to this installation. Much more. Two strangers—anyone attending the festival—stand on opposite sides of the canal, and their words to each other alter the lights and sounds of the rectangles in a shared form of expression. Without that interaction, without the shared movement and sound between two people who have never met, there is no light, no action.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: Eric Dyer, 2017

Materials: Steel, plywood, strobe light, inkjet print

Two wheels composed of thousands of tiny images spin and come to animated life, the effect heightened by a flashing LED light. The art form, optic devices called zoetropes, dates back to early experimental cinematographers of the 19th century—though here, artist Eric Dyer takes it up a notch. If you look closely, the images depict Shanghai, the Panama Canal, and Baltimore, a photographic unity of three distinct ports connected by the canal’s recent expansion.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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The Pool [Reflect]

Artist: Jen Lewin, 2017

Materials: LED lights, motion sensors, mesh network communications

Artist Jen Lewin recalls an experience she had while camping in Australia, watching the tide retreat. As moonlight flooded the tidal pools that emerged, she was inspired to create “puddles of light that could be interactive.” Using LED lights, she fashioned 106 individual pads arranged in a 49-foot-wide concentric circle—The Pool [Reflect]. Step or jump on one of the pads and each changes color as you move from one to the next in a delightful sense of play. While the installation glows with colored light at night, during the day it takes on a different character by brilliantly reflecting sunlight and clouds.

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Crystal Whitman
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House of Cards

Artist: OGE Group

This striking installation is made of 128 individually designed cards that literally, together, are the size of a house. As music plays, the individual cards flip and flop in a choreographed play of light and shadows. The house builds up and breaks down before your eyes—all an illusion of light. 

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: Stephanie Imbeau, 2017

Materials: One 30-foot sloop rig sailboat, two 24-foot sloop rig sailboats, nearly 1,000 umbrellas, LED lights, lathe snow fencing

Boats and Baltimore are nearly synonymous, as the city perches at the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay. With that in mind, artist Stephanie Imbeau has created three patchwork sailboats floating peacefully on the water, their colorful sails lustrous with light. Look closer—umbrellas lit from beneath are responsible for the Murona-glass-esque mosaic of brilliant hues.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: Edgar Reyes, 2017

Materials: LED lights, inkjet print, plexiglass, wood, printed textile

Some of the works here touch on social justice and other important issues in ways only artists can express. Multi-media artist Edgar Reyes, with the help of local Latino youth, has constructed a wooden light box showcasing symbolic images that celebrate the many different faces of Latino culture. It’s a bold statement that gives Latino youth an important sense of identity, and challenges the rest of us to not only remember them, but celebrate them.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: Lucion, 2017

Materials: Parachute silk, fans, plywood, projectors, LED lights

Nine enormous, pastel-hued, glowing balls scatter along a walk parallel to Jones Falls, a whimsical addition to the scene. They all change color, but the two largest also flash illustrations, telling the story of Baltimore’s spirit through Shadow Theater, the world’s oldest imaging technique.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Light Happenings Part II

Artist: Labbodies, 2017

Materials: Glass and steel frames, LED lights, projectors, el wire

Okay, this one’s a little more startling, and complicated, than most. Three glass-and-steel houses—one rectangular, two pyramidal—are framed with LED lights. And inside, real-life performance artists examine some of history’s most devastating moments, encouraging the viewer to engage in discussion. The backstory? The installation marks the site of the first Civil War’s first casualty, here in Baltimore, a war that stemmed from racial inequality. And, with the 9/11 Memorial located nearby as well, it reminds us of current examples of racial inequality and how this conversation must extend beyond Baltimore into the world.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Artist: Pitaya (David and Arnaud), year unknown

Materials: Laser-cut aluminum, LED lights

Forty white, illuminated, origami-like birds sit gracefully on tree branches, as if they’ve migrated a long distance and are settling to rest for a moment. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the flock is set to fly away. The artists, David and Arnaud Pitaya, aimed to “generate a consciousness,” encouraging the viewer to distinguish between individual identity versus being part of a larger whole. If that’s too metaphysical, just admiring their willowy beauty is fine too.

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Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
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Our House

Artist: Tom Dekyvere, 2017

Materials: Fiber, UV lights, sound

Glowing neon cables strung across a pedestrian bridge weave and interconnect like a giant, color-changing cat’s cradle. The artist, Tom Dekyvere, is obsessed with creating unexpected connections. Here, he succeeds immensely by transforming a busy urban bridge into a mesmerizing, eye-popping spectacle, jolting you out of the hustle-bustle of daily life.

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Barbara Noe Kennedy
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The Changing Face of Hampden

Artist: Isaac Ewart

Materials: Reclaimed wood, watercolor paper, LED lights

The festival extends into eight different neighborhoods, each of which was selected by a team of jurors to receive funding. In the Hampden neighborhood, artist Isaac Ewart solicited the help of local kids to create several giant masks. He has juxtaposed their watercolor self-portraits onto the masks, flashing at intervals of 1/12th a second, to personify the changing face of Hampden. A soundtrack of the neighborhood’s sounds plays in the background.

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