Photo by Mark Brocher
Bright colors and moving lights returned to the University of California, Santa Barbara last week as the second annual Luminarium exhibit dominated the Lagoon Lawn and offered students, faculty, and staff the chance to enjoy the unique interactive experience.
The Luminarium is sponsored by Associated Students Program Board and was created by the Nottingham-oriented company Architects of Air. This year’s luminarium, entitled EXXopolis in celebration of their 20th anniversary, has a different design from last year’s inflatable structure, and students were invited to explore the intermixing of design and color.
The enthusiastic response of students during last year’s exhibit encouraged AS Program Board to bring back Alan Parkinson’s unique creations and lines quickly stretched across the Lagoon Lawn. Mark Nguyen of AS Program Board, said he’s glad the students responded in similarly to the new luminarium.
“We remembered last year that it was such a huge success,” said Nguyen. “We had a line that backed up all the way to the parking lot. Since it was such a huge hit, we decided to bring it back to give people who didn’t get a chance to go that first time.”
Behind the beauty and grace of the sculptures are a handful of artists and creators with a mere five permanent staff members employed by Architects of Air. Fifteen or more temporary staff members work together over the course of six months to construct new luminariums.
The luminariums are constructed from flexible plastic sheets that can be less than a millimeter thick and, until recently, were designed and constructed without the help of computers. Each piece is held together with zippers and glue that, in high heat and through general wear and tear, can begin to split, adding a limited lifespan to these rare and remarkable artistic creations.
The company has made over 500 exhibitions in 37 countries across the world and plans to continue annual shows so long as UCSB asks them to return.
Parkinson, the designer and artistic director, had been working with pneumatic sculptures since the 1980s and founded Architects of Air in 1992 to build and tour his creations. On the Architects of Air website, Parkinson explains his intention behind the company and his luminariums
“What motivates me to design,” states Parkinson, “is the fact that I continue to be struck by the beauty of light and color found in the luminaria. These structures nurture an awareness of a pure phenomenon that gently cuts through everyday conditioned perceptions and awakens a sense of wonder in people.”
Architects of Air watched over their luminarium during the exhibition with Shanti Freed, the Exhibition Manager, ensuring the wind didn’t upset the sculpture and that those who attend all got to enjoy the full experience of EXXopolis.
Freed said she was thrilled when UCSB asked the company to return and has enjoyed working with the students and UCSB to present the new luminarium. “It’s up to the university if we come back, but we are planning on making another one,” she said.
Despite the long lines, hundreds of UCSB students, faculty, and staff flooded the luminarium to experience the nearly spiritual collections of shape, light, and colors for the short four days the structure was exhibited. Fourth-year English major Christina Nguyen said the luminarium was an extraordinary event that UCSB students are lucky to experience.
“I definitely appreciated seeing the luminarium even a second time,” said Nguyen. “I thought I couldn’t get anymore from it after seeing it the first time but just seeing it again was still worth it. Every time, it still amazed me the same amount of how beautiful the colors are and how everything was illuminated purely by sunlight.”
While admission to the luminarium was free, non-cash donations to the AS Food Bank were encouraged. Though there’s no guarantee, the enthusiastic response from all who attended makes it likely that the luminarium will become an annual part of the UCSB experience.