Satellite 2009: Surprises in the dark during Lights On Tampa

We neglected to get a map, but that was better somehow. First we communed with Peter Segerstrom's Cadillac Beach one-night-only installation outside the Aquarium — gleaming black Escalades booming out a soundtrack of waves and whale sounds. Then we made our way in the dark down Channelside Drive past the under-populated condos and tried to figure out where the rest of the art was. The blinking light over there? No, that's a parking sign. The glimmering in the window up ahead? Yes! Art! The illuminated balcony up ahead? Nope, Christmas lights. The cross in the window of the Port Authority? Art! We went on like that, walking down blocks we'd driven but never explored on foot before, let alone at night, and making discoveries. Most all of the installations were arresting, but none moreso than Touch and Go by Alan Calpe and John Orth, a video work being shown in windows of The Place (on Channelside near Whiting). Hard to explain or even know what we were looking at, but it involved a swan, a rowboat, giant towers of fruit and a Blair-Witchy escape through the woods, with startling bursts of saturated color and swirling movement. Mesmerizing.

But don't take my word for it - go do some urban exploring yourself tonight, Jan. 13. It's the last night for the satellite installations, and they're well worth trudging about in the dark to find. (PS: The main installations in Lights On Tampa remain up through the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, so you've still got time to check them out if you haven't yet.)

The mirror balls sparkled, the mood ring changed colors, a parking garage came alive, and an animated depiction of Tampa under water shared wall space with Celine Dion ads as circus crowds milled outside the St. Pete Forum. All in all, the Jan. 10 kickoff for Lights On Tampa was quite a night — not quite as mind-blowing or as crowded as the first LOT in 2006, but pleasantly surreal just the same. CL art critic Megan Voeller led a walking tour of the sites in conjunction with Brand Tampa and Hampton Dohrman of [5]art gallery. The motley crew of curious art lovers following in her wake included David Audet of HCC's Ybor Festival of the Moving Image (which he's opening on April Fool's Day this year in keeping with a focus on satire and humor); Tara Schroeder of Tampa Theatre (whose marquee she deemed the original Lights On Tampa); and a Coast Guard reservist who told me she's going to be helping with security at the Super Bowl. On the way, we ran into Megan's predecessor as CL art critic, City Councilperson Mary Mulhern, with her husband Cam Dilley and son Miles; the director emeritus of the Tampa Museum of Art, Ken Rollins, and his son Noah, now an art consulting team; and artists Chris Doyle (of the mirror balls) and Marina Zurkow (of the animation).

But for me the real fun began when my partner and I drifted away from the main event and went in search of the satellite installations curated by USF's Wendy Babcox in storefront windows and other sites throughout the Channelside district.

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