fb-pixel‘Illuminus’ lights up SoWa with artful projections - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

‘Illuminus’ lights up SoWa with artful projections

Image from “Glitche’’ installation by Sam Okerstrom-Lang.SAM OKERSTROM-LANG

Enormous, luminous beetles will crawl over the 75-foot-tall façade of an old power station on Harrison Avenue on Saturday night. Don’t be alarmed, it isn’t an invasion of mutant arthropods. It’s an art installation: Claire Eder’s light projection, “Beetles,” one of many projects and performances that make up “Illuminus: Nuit Blanche Boston,” an ambitious, one-night only public arts event along several blocks in the South End’s arty SoWa neighborhood.

Inspired by Nuit Blanche, an all-night art festival inaugurated in Paris in 2002, which has since sparked similar events in cities around the world, “Illuminus” will serve up large-scale light projections, a three-dimensional immersive video projection, live music, and interactive fun, all for free. Roughly 30 artists and artist teams will contribute work.


Jeff Grantz, founder of the creative consulting firm Materials & Methods, spearheads “Illuminus,” which has come together relatively quickly since last spring, produced and directed by Materials & Methods and Nuit Blanche New York. Grantz has coproduced similar events in New York, but he has lived in Boston for more than 16 years.

“It’s the right time,” he says of bringing a Nuit Blanche event to Boston. “The right sequence of events, the right cosmic alignment. We have such a rich community of digital media artists, programmers, animators, and performance groups, all starving for a stage to present themselves.”

Part of that opportune timing includes Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s active support for the arts. There’s a sense of welcome in the air that public artists haven’t felt for some time.

“The city has been surprisingly proactive with communications and calling me, saying, ‘If you hit a bump, please let us know,’ ” says Grantz. “But I still have to sit in front of the permitting board with this weird thing we’re trying to put together.”

Video (above) and live (below) projections of Dan Pecci, Karen Stein-Shanley, Matthew Shanley, and Elizabeth Schumann’s “Miraculous City.”

“Illuminus” springs from a series of brainstorming meetings with scores of creative folks. Local curators recommended artists. While other festivals with longer lead times might apply for grants, Grantz tapped some of his Materials & Methods clients, such as Christie Digital Systems, which Grantz says is contributing “millions of dollars worth of projection equipment.” There are nearly 20 other sponsors, “besides my credit card,” says Grantz.


There are always obstacles to showing public art. “Our biggest hurdle is building owners, easements,” Grantz says, adding that GTI Properties, which owns several buildings in the area, helped “cut a lot of logistical red tape.”

Requests for proposals solicited projects at funding levels of $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000, but those may have been dream budgets. In the end, Grantz and his sponsors could cover the event’s infrastructure, and had no money left for artist stipends.

“We always set out to make sure the artists get paid,” Grantz says. “Yet inevitably in the 11th hour, there’s just enough funding to make it happen.”

The Boston Art Commission, the city agency that oversees Boston’s art collection, has stepped in to pay the artists at three-figure rates.

“It’s a modest honorarium,” says Karin Goodfellow, director of the commission. “But even something modest makes a gesture, and the Boston Art Commission and the city believe every artist should be compensated for their work.”

Many artists are excited to be involved in what looks to be a splashy, fun event. Sam Okerstrom-Lang, who graduated last spring from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, will install “Glitche” at the heart of “Illuminus,” inside the former West End Street Railway Central Power Station at 540 Harrison Ave. Essentially, “Glitche,” a 30-foot-tall cube of suspended cotton ribbons, turns video projection into a 3-D experience that viewers can wander through.


“They’ll be seeing colors and abstract shapes, and live and breathe in a meditative state that develops and develops into an aggressive, intense, challenging situation to wrap your body and head around,” says Okerstrom-Lang. “I relate it to a roller coaster. Some people are frightened; for some it’s an extreme thrill.”

A variety of videos will be projected through “Glitche” throughout the night, and “Passing By,” a series of music performances curated by the art group Sweety’s, will take place adjoining the installation.

Okerstrom-Lang is thrilled to be involved with “Illuminus.” “I get goosebumps,” he says. “I tell people Jeff is a beacon of light. The opportunity he has granted us is priceless.”

“Glitche” is not the only installation inside the power station. Artists Dan Pecci, Karen Stein-Shanley, and Matthew Shanley and composer and pianist Elizabeth Schumann plan a two-channel video projection and live piano performance, “Miraculous City,” which celebrates the neighborhood’s history of manufacturing pianos.

Other projects, indoors and outdoors, include interactive installations by Wenting Guo involving fabric and light, and Cindy Bishop’s interactive projection “The Way You Move.”

“I’m hoping it comes off as great, because it’s something the city needs,” says George Fifield, director of Boston Cyberarts. Fifield staged the biennial Boston Cyberarts Festival from 1999 to 2011, and recommended a roster of artists to Grantz. “It’s visual art in a festive performance environment. We don’t see a lot of that in Boston,” says Fifield.


“We’d love to see this grow,” says the Boston Art Commission’s Goodfellow.

“If I were to do this again, pending my survival, I’d make it more a shared responsibility,” Grantz says. “Boston could be a museum without walls. My hope would be that it happens every weekend, every day.”

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.