When a Hollywood project flops, it doesn't usually get a sequel. But Santa Monica is not Hollywood. Case in point: Glow.
The biennial art festival launched with a one-night event in July 2008, which ended in disarray. The idea of Glow was to bathe the Santa Monica Pier and the surrounding beach with light from 20 radiant installations, a sort of California version of Nuit Blanche, the annual nocturnal art party staged in cities around the world.
But Glow's promises of all-night music sets and luminous art drew 10 times the expected crowd, with nearly a quarter-million people flooding Santa Monica Beach. The result was a boardwalk clogged with people, installations too intimate to be seen over the mobs and a sense of bitter disappointment. The music was shut off. The pier was closed down. A glow-stick exhibit was plundered by rowdy attendees.
"Last time it was more of a free-for-all in terms of the rules," says artist Hadrian Predock, who attended Glow in 2008 and is participating in the 2010 version. "Kids showed up on the beach expecting a rave and DJs instead of an art festival. It's being promoted a little more carefully this time, and the city in general is a lot more mobilized to deal with the possibility of large crowds."
After two years of reorganization, Glow is back, with the second event taking place in the area around the Santa Monica Pier from dusk Saturday until 3 a.m. Sunday. This time, organizers say, they're better prepared.
"This event will be more focused on the art. I think that got lost in the crowds and the scale of the last event," says Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for the city of Santa Monica. "And we have way more volunteers and increased private security. It won't feel like a police presence, but I think everyone will feel safe."
"What they've worked on is making art for that large a crowd," says Anne Bray, a participating artist and founding director of the new media arts organization Freewaves.
As an example, Bray and her team of artists and engineers are displaying "Intersection," a seven-story exhibit projected onto the wall of the Holiday Inn at Ocean and Colorado avenues. "Intersection" aims to be a meditation on words and semantics, featuring animated texts and wordplay such as "scared" and "sacred," accompanied by computer-generated visuals and live electronic music. Bray says that such a large-scale project can cater to a wandering crowd that is expected to be as many as 300,000 people strong.
Other Glow installations include an offering from Los Angeles-based art and tech collective Syyn Labs, which is transforming a trellis into a 100-foot-long DNA double helix, constructed from 512 computer-controlled LED-illuminated balls. Echo Park collective Machine Project is staging an ersatz campfire, around which sea chanteys will be sung. "La Bella Luna," conceived by artist Anne Herlihy, involves a karaoke tent in which each participant will sing about the moon — as a video feed of his or her face is projected on an orb above the tent, giving the crooner a lunar appearance.
Robert Chapin, Jessica Cail and Ian Forrest have collaborated on the exhibit "Muscle Beach Glow," featuring acrobats in glow-in-the-dark leotards swinging from outdoor gymnasium rings under black lights, all against a sonic backdrop of beach-themed music.
Other outdoor sights include a fabric canopy dotted with phosphorescent balloons, rigged by Joshua Howell and Aaron Zeligs. The artists describe the exhibit, meant to replicate a starry night, as a "respite amidst the intensity of Glow." Which brings up, well, the intensity of Glow.
Part of the challenge of this year's festival is adjusting public expectations. The city of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division issued a blunt caveat: "Glow is a nighttime art event.... It is not a rave."
Predock, with John Frane, his partner in a Santa Monica-based architect firm, is erecting "Luminous Passage," a glowing land bridge stretching from the boardwalk to the breaking waves. Its function is less about a trippy light show and more a visual commentary about the meeting of the metropolis and the open ocean.
Predock aspires to create a meditative, visceral engagement with his glowing bridge, leading the participant from the bustle of the city to "sitting and listening, hearing the waves, smelling the ocean."
But unlike 2008, don't expect to linger on the sand until sunrise. This year's festival shuts down at 3 a.m., partly because of funding.
"We're calling this the 'recession-era version' because we've chopped four hours out of it," muses Nathan Birnbaum, Santa Monica's cultural affairs supervisor. "When there's non-recession funding, we'll go back to the 12 hours."
Evidently, hopes for a third installment of Glow remain high.
Where: Santa Monica Beach, Pier and Palisades Park
When: Saturday, September 25; 7 p.m. – 3 a.m.
Contact: (310) 458-8350; http://www.glowsantamonica.org