Shimmer: The Art of Light
Friday, Feb. 12, 6–11 p.m.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro

The circus is coming to town.

Well, not exactly. But it might seem that way when larger-than-life light sculptures take over Chapel Hill and Carrboro during this 2nd Friday Artwalk, from twinkling chandeliers hanging in tree branches to illuminated tarot vignettes.

Sarah Wolfe is a Durham resident who has headed projects such as Night Lights at Morehead Planetarium, an annual New Year’s Eve event that combines planetarium shows with illuminated performances by dancers. Inspired by light festivals around the world, including France’s Nuit Blanche, or “White Night,” Wolfe wanted to use the art of light to bridge the gap between two communities.

The result is Shimmer, a one-night-only public art installation featuring the works of more than twenty artists. They’ll put up their installations early on Friday and take them down that night. You can walk the exhibit starting from the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill or The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. I recently embarked on a preview from the Carrboro end of the tour.

“I find illumination to be fascinating,” Wolfe says while walking the route. “I like how light plays in different ways, and [light art] is something you don’t see a lot of.” While Wolfe’s love of art and event planning drove her to organize Shimmer, her real goal lies in fostering connections.

“I see so much potential for this area,” she says. “I want to bring everyone together and instigate more collaboration.” She also hopes the event will have a positive economic impact, as several installations will be in or near local businesses. One notable area on the event trail is the corner of Merritt Mill Road and either East Main or West Franklin Street, depending on which direction you’re coming from.

“It’s kind of the meeting point between the two cities, and it’s where the Medeology Collective will be showing their work,” Wolfe explains. The collective, which hails from Savannah, Georgia, works with digital-video performance, and was the top-scoring artist chosen by the jury for the event. Most of the other artists in the show are also from the South, but a few outliers made the cut, coming from cities such as Baltimore, Portland, Harrisburg, and Las Vegas.

Many artists in the show use unique approaches to the idea of light art. Leigh Suggs, a Carrboro artist, will employ textiles, including a flame-retardant material that reflects and deflects light. Nicole Herbert will create illuminated bowls of ice that melt slowly over the course of the night. There will also be overhead-projector animation and a Lite-Brite installation. Wolfe hopes these fun, playful pieces will inspire viewers not only to appreciate the works but, sometimes, to interact with them, as in a life-size interactive kaleidoscope.

“Many of the pieces will be interactive,” Wolfe says. “People are often intimidated by the idea of getting involved. I want to break down those walls and let people feel good and learn about themselves by experiencing the art.”

Wolfe hopes to make Shimmer, which has a bevy of public and private sponsors, an annual event. But for now, she’s focused on the debut, because even she doesn’t know exactly what all the installations will look like in their respective spaces. And some participating artists, like Cirque de Vol from Raleigh, will be roaming the event’s footprint, giving pop-up performances.

“It’s nerve-wracking but exciting,” Wolfe says. “I hope it’s the ultimate experience of community involvement. It’s municipalities and businesses all coming together in one day and night.”