Playing With Light, the Visual Art of Day For Night Wins Again

It's always fun to play with the light.
It's always fun to play with the light.
Photo by Jack Gorman
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I go to Day for Night to see things I’ve never seen before. That’s not a diss on the music component of the festival — getting to watch Nine Inch Nails in the rain was one of my personal highlights of the year — and I certainly don’t believe I’m the norm, but it’s true. Some people love watercolors, others prefer photographs, but my favorite medium is light. Day for Night’s artist curation is top notch, and some of the installations this year were jaw-dropping in both beauty and message.

The first floor of the Post HTX complex featured the exhibits that you were mostly likely to see on Instagram over the weekend, and not just because they were the ones easiest to access. Hovver’s Liminal Scope was probably the bigger winner of the weekend when it came to Day for Night selfies; the light projected and bouncing around the giant steel rings was fascinating to watch, because even if you understand on a mechanical level what’s happening it still looks unreal. Close behind Liminal Scope was Light Leaks from Kyle McDonald + Jonas Jongejan; this work used a collection of mirror balls to spray what felt like thousands of points of lights in the space it occupied for an effect that literally stopped people in their tracks all weekend as they came around the corner to discover it.

The first floor also housed what might have been the most impressive exhibit of the weekend, VT Pro’s Telestron. Featuring a pair of robotic performers that moved to a soundscape that was part Blade Runner / part nightmare, there was a line to get into the performance all weekend. I myself took it in three times, and it was time well spent to take in what VT Pro managed to accomplish. I’m still not sure if the robots were meant to be friends, enemies or lovers, but I know that at times I thought I was witnessing seduction and at others I thought the robots would turn on the crowd Terminator-style.

Even the robots have a light inside them at Day For Night.EXPAND
Even the robots have a light inside them at Day For Night.
Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman

Those that ventured to the second floor of the former post office were in for a bit of an adventure, as this year it felt like the installations were more spread out than last year. But if you were willing to put the music aside for a bit and make the trek to explore, you were rewarded with some real gems.

Conditional Studio + Processing Foundation had a neat series of stations set up that allowed festival patrons the opportunity to interact with computer programs in interesting ways. The most popular experience I saw in the space was a variation on Flappy Bird that worked with the player moving the bird by humming into a microphone. It’s much harder than it sounds, but meant that there were some cheers when someone managed to get past the first couple of barriers.

If you had the time, taking a seat to enjoy Playmodes’ Cluster made for an impressive, immersive few minutes. A collection of lights hanging along poles and from the ceiling changed color with a playlist that was at times chaotic and harsh and at others melodic and smooth. The whole thing was loud and almost underwhelming as things began to strobe, but overall the entire performance was well thought out.

My personal favorite installation was Matthew Schreiber’s Ricochet. Made up of a small army of red lasers, you can see it from all the way across the second level. At a distance it looks interesting enough, a red shape glowing in the dark. But as you get closer you realize it’s got structure, like two pyramids right on top of each other. It’s not until you’re in the “room” it occupies that you discover that this isn’t just some collection of lights you’re supposed to walk around for a few minutes; you can interact with the lights, even sitting inside the pyramid if you so choose. It provided a great moment of discovery and interaction.

For most people, it’s the music that’s always going to be what gets them in the door of a festival like Day for Night. That they get to see some unconventional artwork is a bonus, even if it just means making their social media accounts look extra hip for a few days. But I wish that they’d add a fourth day to the festival, one without music, for those that just want to take their time, stroll around Post HTX and really focus on magic these creators have put together. Three days is just too fleeting sometimes.

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