The dark arts: Dumbo to host first New York Festival of Light

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Dumbo is getting flashy — and it is not due to another luxury condo or gourmet grocery store.

The first New York Festival of Light will switch on under and around the Manhattan Bridge on Nov. 6 for three nights of light-centric outdoor artwork. One of the organizers said the waterfront neighborhood is the perfect place to launch a local version of the long-running international festival.

“Dumbo is the nest of innovation,” said Liam O’Braion, who is organizing the festival with help from his friend Ira Levy and the Dumbo Improvement District. “Not just for lighting, but for technology, art, and design.”

The original Festival of Light is a massive four-day affair held in Lyon, France that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It started in 1999, but has roots in a regional tradition that involves lighting candles in honor of the Virgin Mary, which goes back the 1850s.

O’Braion has been to that show, and has spent the last five years traveling to different light festivals around the globe, developing bright ideas for a Kings County take on the concept. But ultimately, the creativity of the participating artists are what will make the incandescent exhibition unique, he said.

“We want to open up people’s imagination to thinking about light in a different way,” O’Braion said.

The show will feature 15 artists working mostly in teams to create illuminating work that uses light in some way. A centerpiece of the outdoor festival will be the archway under the Manhattan Bridge, which will host a complex series of video projections on the outside and a laser show and a sculptural installation on the inside.

The video projections will be beamed from six high-powered projectors located in the windows of John Ensor Parker’s studio in a nearby building. Parker is helping to produce the Festival of Light piece using seven different works designed especially for the bridge by different artists. He said projectors offer a rare way to use the iconic piece of architecture as a canvas.

“I’ve always looked at it,” said Parker, who started working in the neighborhood in 1996. “But the Department of Transportation is not going to let you hang anything from the bridge or paint on it.”

Many of the artists in the festival do not work with light exclusively. Prospect Lefferts Gardens artist Scott Tucker is showing a set of sculptures under the bridge that animate characters from a graphic novel he is working on. The pieces, called “Moto Valkyries” after woman warriors from the Norse culture, are made from recycled materials including wood, aluminum, and cast stone. They incorporate motors and lights to bring them to life, the artist said.

Tucker said the festival will highlight the versatility of light as an artistic medium.

“How many different types of work can be made with paint? It’s the same with light,” Tucker said. “It’s all about how you’re able to capture and manipulate it into something that represents your vision.”

New York Festival of Light (Beneath the Manhattan Bridge archway off Anchorage Place between Pearl and Plymouth streets in Dumbo, Nov. 6 from 7 pm–11 pm. Nov. 7–8 from 5 pm–11 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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