Visual Arts

Arty Girl: Night Lights on the Canal in Scottsdale

See more of this in the slideshow.

By Lilia Menconi

Alright, folks, I'll be straight: Arty Girl ain't feeling so hot about some shit she saw last night. I have mixed feelings about this event. And I'm keeping in mind that Scottsdale Public Art has come through in the past. After all, they're responsible for one of my favorite places in town.

But last night, I was a little disappointed. I attended "Night Lights on the Canal" with New Times photographer, Victor J. Palagano III, in tow. He took some beautiful shots (as seen above and in our slideshow) and I started the night expecting to see some impressive, knock-your-socks-off glowing installations.

But later, when my boyfriend asked how the event went, all I could say was, "Eh."

This is the first year Scottsdale is putting on this annual event and it's to happen every third Thursday in October, November and December. It's totally appropriate to throw something like this right now - our sun dies everyday at 5:30 p.m. so we need some other source of light-stimulation. But there were just a few things off that made the whole thing awkward. Maybe they're still working out the kinks - and I'm not saying I'd never go back. I just wouldn't expect so much. It's my hope that the next time I go, my lowered expectations combined with improvements to the event will make for a better time.

So I'm going to give a quick run-down of what I saw. And I'll try not to get mean.

First off the bat is Mark Lottor's Cubatron. No need to be rude here - this piece was fabulous. The giant cube is made of a grid of LED lights programmed to sparkle, dazzle and pulse. The Cubatron is the first thing I saw and, unfortunately, it was only up last night. I could've spent a good half hour staring at this thing - the mass of bulbs mesmerized me. There's so much movement and play with depth that a still photo doesn't do any justice to the piece. I wanted to walk all the way around it and experience it from different vantage points but, unfortunately, the Cubatron was in a dirt lot, shoved up against the curb, with it's back against some crappy fence. It's certainly frustrating that Scottsdale didn't present this piece in a more engaging area.

The second art piece I saw was Joseph O'Connell's Making Do with Little Water. This basically looks like a make-shift overhead projector under a spotlight with some water dribbling over it. The running and dripping water patterns were projected onto a white screen that was stretched between a few palm trees with the canal water as a backdrop. Nice presentation but the piece was mediocre. Maybe it could've been named Making Do with Little Substance.

Okay, that was a little mean. Sorry.

I then wandered over to David Bailey's work, Becky's Machine. Which was basically a cardboard box, painted black with some circuit boards and a few teeny bulbs poking through. The circuit boards had sensors and as I walked by, speakers blared some coo-coo 1970's Sci-Fi sound effects. Depending on my movement, the sounds would change. Oh, and then he had a table filled with little sparkling, flashing trinkets...the kind of little light toys you might pick up as a prize at the fair. Bailey said Scottsdale contacted him at the last minute to set up his work at the event. Yep, it shows.

Then it was onto one of the better installations. Paradise Valley Community College Partners in Art's Drawing with Light is up every month. It's totally interactive and it goes like this: you grab a couple bulbs, wiggle them around in the air, they take your photo with a long exposure, and then project your image onto a screen. I liked this one. Great for families and if you wanted to get fancy with it, it could be pretty challenging. It took us a few tries to get the perfect shot.

And the last real art piece I'll describe is another reoccurring work. Mary Lucking's Amur Serenade is set up on the Marshall Way Bridge. A talk box is set up and as you sing (I'm shy so I just talked) you see projected lights dance on the water surface. These ethereal shapes mimic amur fish - the ones found in our canals. I liked this piece - it's no Cubatron but it's definitely something the families might dig.

My major gripe is with James Reid, Juggler Extraordinaire. Not with him personally, of course (he seemed like a nice enough guy). But Reid was really pimped on the press release as someone who had traveled the world with his twenty-six year career in juggling. Now, I'm not bagging on his skills - he did some impressive stuff - but I was expecting the performance to be a little more artsy - I wanted to see some watered down Cirque du Soleil type shenanigans. Instead, I saw a guy in a busted up tuxedo, throwing around glow in the dark bowling pins to a remixed version of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.

Oh, and then there was another last minute throw-in: a woman in rollerblades and a black jumpsuit with lights poking out of it. I swear, I thought I was on Venice Beach for a split second.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh. After all, the event was free. But when public money is involved, "free" means something more like "pre-paid".

Night Lights on the Canal in Scottsdale is open again December 18th from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at the Waterfront (SE corner of Scottsdale Rd and Camelback) with new light installations. Visit