By Hannah Anderson, SEGD Cincinnati Co-Chair and Construction Administration Lead, Kolar Design
On Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. in Cincinnati, Ohio, there was undeniable electricity in the air.
The sun was setting over a strange, futuristic-looking inflatable structure quietly sitting on the lawn of the newly renovated Music Hall. Projection towers and pylons had been conspicuously erected in front of buildings, parking lots, and green space all across the city center. Along the banks of the Ohio River, immensely large teeter totters started to sway, chime, and illuminate. Ten to twenty blocks up, the sidewalks within the historic Over the Rhine neighborhood were becoming difficult to traverse. A crowd of at least 100,000 had gathered along the inaugural parade route to celebrate the beginning of one of the largest light, art and projection mapping events in the nation: BLINK.
BLINK Cincinnati public art and light festival spanned four days, twenty city blocks, and exceeded expectations on many accounts. One million people—a crowd that far outnumbered the most popular public events in the city—ventured out on foot or by streetcar to explore in wonder the sights, sounds and immersive experiences of BLINK. The collective and diverse crowd roved the urban landscape, eyes (and sometimes mouths) wide open in wonder, engaging with art and asking questions of one another like curious children. No one pushed anyone, no harsh words were exchanged and, most notably, there were no incidents involving police at the event. In its purest form, art made the impossible, possible.
Local media couldn’t seem to get enough of BLINK, either; several features were broadcast in the week leading up to BLINK, even before reporters could truly understand it. Once the event began, the reporters knew they were experiencing something dynamic, something for the entire community.
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s website explained the impact, quoting Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber President and CEO Jill Meyer, who said, “BLINK shined a light—literally and figuratively—on this region’s creative community and beautiful architecture. It is a beacon to talent from around the globe, showing them that Cincinnati is the ideal place to dream and do. Simply put, BLINK was an over-the-top success.”
Months in advance, a call for artists had been released and applications and concepts had rolled in. A group of 100 artists helped create 35 light-based installations, 22 projection mappings, and 8 new murals in addition to numerous sculptures, interactive elements, images and exhibits.
Installations at BLINK included:
119 E. Court Street Installation:
Our Own Homecoming| We Have Become Vikings We Have Become Vikings worked with Brett Harper and the Harper estate and used projection mapping to animate Charley Harper’s Homecoming mural at Lumenocity.
The Annunciation Mural| Xylene Projects The BLINK-commissioned mural adorns the home of the Franciscan Friars of Over-the-Rhine, and was animated using imagery, textures and fantasy dreamscapes to evoke a sense of unity.
Projection Mapping of the Contemporary Arts Center| Lightborne Using the unique architecture of the CAC as scaffolding, Lightborne used projection mapping to explore the elements and media of visual art in unexpected ways.
Visit http://www.blinkcincinnati.com/ for more information about the individual artists and installations.
As scheduled artists of Blink, Kolar Design team members Christian Reichle and Matt Grote (who is also known as local artist OGRE) had this to say about their own unique experiences on two separate projects, the Enchanted Forest Lounge and Stumpies, respectively:
How did you become involved? What features were you responsible for?
CR: I got involved after Brave Berlin reached out to Kolar asking for concepts for one of the parking lots they would be projection mapping. I had submitted an independent artist proposal for an installation that unfortunately was not selected, so I jumped on the opportunity to get involved at work. We were charged with creating an engaging and immersive environment that would complement the projections on the Charlie Harper Our Homecoming mural.
MG: I have an artist practice outside of my role at Kolar. There was an open call for project submissions and I was eager to seize the opportunity. I was fortunate enough to be selected for my project and built a series of works called “Stumpies” to be installed in a few downtown locations.
An event like this doesn’t just happen overnight. How many different people or multi-disciplinary groups did you directly interact with to see your portion of the event come to life?
CR: It was definitely a group effort! Our concept started in house with a team brainstorm I led at Kolar. Once the concept was selected, we reached out to several contacts to secure materials and hands to help make our vision a reality. The Cincinnati Parks Foundation donated the stumps and branches as well as volunteers for set up; The Motz Group donated their time to deliver and install the turf; and Sediment Design was our local fabricator who brought all the parts to life. Of course, none of it would have been possible without financial support from the Haile Foundation and the logistical event support the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce provided citywide.
MG: My project was very much an individual effort, but it forced me out of my home studio into a shared space. I moved into a space being built by an upstart design build group. Working in proximity to talented builders and designers had a very positive impact on me.
What were some of the main goals or drivers in your design and execution? Do you feel that they were achieved?
CR: Our number one goal was to create a place of respite and relaxation. We knew the event would be spread all over downtown and the Over The Rhine neighborhood and our location fell right in the middle. We wanted to create an environment where people would want to stop and stay a while. The logs provided seating and the turf was a favorite with the kids who appreciated a soft surface to run and play on. Parents could relax and talk with a drink while the kids entertained themselves. The glow-in-the-dark logs were an added level of surprise that people of all ages seemed to enjoy drawing on and engaging with.
MG: My goal was to build a fantastical species of personified stumps. I wanted to make sure that these characters delighted anyone who came across them. At the same time, I needed them to be self-contained light boxes that were safe to be in the public. There’s always room for growth on process, but I felt very good about executing my goals.
What was one thing you learned during the process that you could never have planned for?
CR: We needed more flashlights! I bought over 300 UV flashlights for festivalgoers to use to draw on the logs and most had been taken as souvenirs in the first two nights. I never would have guessed BLINK would draw a million people downtown. Had I known that, I would have bought a lot more! I did notice several families who came back a second night and brought their lights back with them, which was nice to see.
MG: It was important to me that these “Stumpies” were each unique. The structures were all built the same way (in three sizes), but the exteriors were uniquely painted. As a result, the time spent on finishing and painting varied dramatically.
Compare the experience of the live event against some of your preconceived ideas.
CR: To be honest, I was a bit nervous leading up to the opening. The foot print of the festival was massive and it created a logistical challenge I did not envy. With all the moving partks, I was worried our city had perhaps bit off a bit more than we could chew. I could not have been more wrong! The event went off without a hitch and the public loved it! Everyone was in good spirits and excited for our city.
MG: I knew that the programming and the people involved were going to pull off a great event. What I didn’t expect was the city’s response. People came out in droves. I could not believe how many people showed up. Without the support from the city we would not still be talking about it.
What was your favorite installation outside of your own work?
CR: I don’t know that I can choose just one! Being a big fan of street art, I think my favorite parts were all the murals that were painted for the festival around Findlay and down Pleasant Street. Now that the light installations have gone away, the murals act as an ongoing reminder of that weekend in October when Cincinnati shined.
MG: The pleasant street murals were my favorite. As a city that has dozens and dozens of excellent murals already, it was great to see us embrace a growing trend of the street art mural festival. It was well curated and very impactful when lit up at night. It continues to give to the city as one of my favorite artists, ROA, is out painting his own mural as I write this.
(Produced by AGAR, provided by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber)
BLINK Cincinnati was made possible by a forward-thinking team made up of city, private foundation, public arts and design groups: