Lights On Tampa 2011: Poe Garage gets Etch-a-Sketched (video)

Some of the artworks from previous  years have become permanent parts of the cityscape, like Chris Doyle's "Ecstatic City," the glittering mirror-ball installation at the Tampa Convention Center. Others are ephemeral, visible for only a limited time. Pablo Valbuena's "N27°57’00” W82°27’41" (named for the Poe garage's latitude and longitude) is one of those; see it in a continuous loop during the Lights On Tampa event on Saturday night, Feb. 19, in and around Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park from 5:30-11 p.m.

Watching the test run on Thursday night (see video above), Valbuena said that he closely studies the dimensions and architectural details of the sites he illuminates before creating the  drawings he projects onto them (he has done similar "interventions" all over the world). The Poe wasn't necessarily his first choice; he spoke a little wistfully of what he might have been able to do with the "beer can," aka the Rivergate Tower. He remarked, though, that he's surprised by the poor quality of exterior lighting in the cities he's visited; quantity of light, he's noticed, seems to be prized over quality.

That said, Curtis Hixon park has become in the last few years a prime vantage point for viewing Tampa's new nightscape. Between the UT minarets across the river, the illuminated fountains on the Riverwalk and Leo Villareal's gorgeous, pulsing "Sky (Tampa)" on the facade of the Tampa Museum of Art, there's a light show going on every night. Lights on Tampa is an excellent excuse to take it in — plus you can see Valbuena's "N27°57’00” W82°27’41" and new video by Eva Lee, Juliet Davis and Stephanie Tripp, and Molly Schwartz. Their works will be displayed on The Portal, a kind of over-sized TV tree on the Riverwalk.

In its first year, Lights on Tampa was a revelation: Look! Lots of people! Downtown! On a Saturday night! Now that there's actually a little life in the district's nightlife, think of this year's LOT as a party to celebrate a downtown that has, at last, a lot to look at.

If you happened to be heading up Ashley Street in downtown Tampa last night between 7 and 8 p.m., you might have noticed that the usually bland hulk that is Poe Parking Garage was undergoing a transformation. For several minutes, lines of light traced the contours of the building as if someone were projecting a gigantic and highly precise Etch-A-Sketch drawing onto it; at other moments, bursts of brilliant illumination showed aspects of the garage in (literally) a whole new light. Who knew the circular staircase at the corner of the Poe could look like a slice of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum?

But that's what Lights On Tampa is all about. From its inception in 2006, the biennial one-night public art event has been a transformative experience, changing the way we look at downtown Tampa's visual environment.

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