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Luminaria's fifth brings ghetto-blasted animal cries, light sculpture, and poetry

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Ya’Ke Smith, still shot from six-screen video installation


Who would have thought a contemporary art festival could bring in the crowds? Such stuff might be considered a snobby affair in some burgs, but here in SA First Friday packs the streets of Southtown on a regular basis, and Contemporary Art Month has been a popular celebration for a quarter century. The City got into the game in 2008 when then-Mayor Phil Hardberger initiated Luminaria, a one-night art festival modeled on the Paris event Nuit Blanche (White Night). The theme is light, but the fest is packed with a tumult of performance and art. In its first two years, Luminaria was a free-for-all with over 1,000 artists sprawling through the streets. The event now takes place in the more controlled environs of HemisFair Park, but this year's control — through the input of six professional curators brought in from outside the city — might be a good, rather than limiting, influence. The out-of-town pros have chosen over 80 artists and performers for the fifth annual run of the single largest free art event in town. So, how did they do? Here's a sampling to give you a taste, but check the website (or print program when you arrive) for the full list of events.

San Antonio-born Ya'Ke Smith is a rising star in the film world. The writer/director has exhibited films at over 60 festivals, including the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival on the French Riviera; his short, Katrina's Son, has raked in 14 awards. In the U.S., his films have attracted TV play on HBO, Showtime, and BET, and his latest film, Wolf, will have its world premiere at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. But at Luminaria this year, Smith is stepping into fresh territory with a six-screen video installation, a feat that brings the UT-Arlington professor from movie-land to the realm of fine arts. It's not necessarily an elevation, but sure is different territory. The commissioned video work will screen continuously from 7 p.m. to midnight on the lawn next to the Magik Theatre. As a counterpart to the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, the screens will light up one by one accompanied by a spoken-word sound track introducing the six art fields that comprise Luminaria: dance, literary arts, media arts, music, theater/performance, and visual arts. In the hands of a lesser artist, the representation of the arts with actors playing a ballerina, a painter, a trumpet player, and the like, might have resulted in a series of caricatures, but Smith's reputation as "an actor's director," and his wife, accomplished actress and writer Mikala Gibson, collaborating in the writing and reading of the voice-over poem, promise brilliance instead.

There's no skimping on light-based art this year. More projections will be delivered by Deanna Arriaga, an SA-based architect and production artist who is also making a personal foray into new lands with photo projections that are literally made with light. Arriaga works with a peculiar variety of light sources that include hand-held LEDs, cold cathode lights, sparklers, and burning steel wool, which she uses as light-brushes to paint three-dimensional forms in space. Her movements are captured by a still camera in long-exposure shots. The results, which include light-paintings of flowers, faces, trees, eerie emanations around bodies, and charged action shots of a tumbling BMX biker surrounded by a cartoon aura, will be projected onto the Kodak Pavilion, now a wing of the Women's Pavilion, to the pulse of music programmed by a DJ. Arriaga graduated from UTSA in 2006, and considers herself a designer (she's a proficient AutoCad drafter) rather than a fine artist or performer. Having seen her in action light-painting in the early evening at the Pearl last week, we are convinced she's both. The Women's Pavilion is towards the back and off to the south side of the park; on view from 7 p.m. to midnight. Make the trip.

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