A holiday light show is a magnet for me. So on a blustery cold December evening, wearing only a thin pea coat with no hat or gloves, I began my night holiday safari to discover the 2019 edition of Georgetown GLOW DC. There are 11 light art installations available to view over 31 nights. (Georgetown GLOW is cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.)
The Georgetown Business Improvement District markets it as the region’s only free curated exhibition of outdoor public light art.
But I had miscalculated how cold it would be today. When I departed my DC condo at 10 am, the temperatures were 55 degrees. But as night approached, the thermostat sunk 20 degrees.
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Shivering from the wind that blows up off the Potomac River, I set out to find Tall Grasses (#11) which was the nearest illumination at the lower end of M Street.
You can start at any illumination. They are scattered across historic Georgetown, a must-see neighborhood on any visit to Washington D.C. BTW, the city is named after an English king (George III)—and not George Washington.
Tall Grasses is hidden away at 3000 K Street, which hunkers down under the Whitehurst Freeway. It is set on a sweeping lawn which bears the sign warning pedestrians to not tamper with the holiday light show.
I choose to cut through the massive and weird Washington Harbor, which is a mishmash of bombastic architectural styles. But I am rewarded with the sight of skaters whirling on ice under the glow of the gigantic Harbor Christmas tree.
My next stop for the holiday light show is Georgetown Waterfront Park (near the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and K Street) which is strategically located at a high-traffic bike lane. This installation begs public participation. I jump on a bicycle and begin to furiously pedal in place. Across from me, other visitors also take part in the “light battle.” I see a flash of light as colors change above me.
Lightbattle (#10) is comprised of an arch of 5,000 LED lights. By moving the pedals, participants beat each other by pushing their beam of light to the other side of the arch. As I disembark, I see a family of five getting ready to do battle (parents vs. kids). The strongest team will be rewarded with a flood of light in their color.
Atomic Light Show
As I depart the waterfront, I head up Georgetown’s signature skinny streets toward 1041 Wisconsin Avenue. My destination is the Grace Church founded as a mission church in the 1850s. Self-described as “a big-hearted parish in lower Georgetown,” this Episcopal Church sponsors outreach programs for the homeless. This ncludes “Grace’s Table” and a congregation-based shelter.
The courtyard of the Gothic church is the site for Atomic (#9). This art piece is comprised of fishnet-covered hula hoops in vibrant neon colors (rose, tangerine, blue, green and yellow). Spotlights, strategically located around the project, light up three space. This installation is described as “an ode to the tiny particles that shape our universe, filling an otherwise infinite vacuum with energy, variety and light.”
Outdoor lounging chairs allow pedestrians to sit and contemplate life . . . and the holiday light show. But it is too cold in my opinion to sit still for an extended period. So I snuggle deeper into my coat and head into Georgetown’s shopping district.
Pom Pom Light Sculpture
To my surprise I learn that the Dean and Deluca gourmet grocery store permanently closed its doors during the summer. A favorite destination for foodies, this is a shock. The alley on the side of the food emporium is home to two light art works at Georgetown Park Plaza (located at 3276 M Street).
PomPom (#6) is an exuberant piece that reminds me of fireworks exploding in the sky. The artist Sui Park created 3-D organic forms that look like molecules and dangle above me like stars. These magical “bursts of lit color”—lavender, pink, yellow, orange and blue—make me want to laugh out loud. It almost feels like I am in a multi-colored snow storm.
From here I moved up to Pandora’s Box (#7). It consists of nine custom-made benches that resemble rectangular frozen blocks of ice. They were created by South Korean artist Eunsook Lee.
Sitting in parallel rows stretching out on Georgetown Park Plaza, the benches are “symbolic of the artist’s hope of communicating with her family members to resolve their conflicts, even if this comes with unforeseen challenges.” (This is the artist’s reference to opening up a a Pandora’s box of evil spirits and demon emotions). The benches seem to glow with a wash of cosmic colors. Definitely they beckon pedestrians to stop and chat.
This bewitching illumination consists of crocheted art (in the form of a heron) floating above the C&O canal. The Heron (#8) looks dark and dismal at nighttime. I shiver as I look up at the bird seemingly stalled in the sky.
According to the Georgetown GLOW website, “The Heron is inspired by the artists’ accidental encounter at dusk with a Great Blue Heron at the C&O Canal. With its full wings, the Great Blue Heron glided down to the water, soundlessly and motionlessly, as if it had arrived from a different time. The artwork is composed of three hand-crocheted lace feathers that levitate above the Canal, creating sequential views from the bridges above, and a cinematic experience during a stroll or bike ride along the Canal. Symbolically, the crocheted lace weaves together this historic neighborhood, its people and its cultures.”
But I think my favorite GLOW illumination is a word sign. Called every day (#12), it is an illuminated poem. It is written in script with no capital letters. It reads: “every day we are slowly, approaching, a solstice.”
The artist used different sections of the church grounds to layout each of the five different phrases. In this way, the poem resembles illuminated stanzas that swirl across the lawn. I can almost imagine a poet carefully writing each word with a vintage fountain pen.
It’s also clever how the word “approaching” is bracketed off with commas, reminding us that life is always in flux. The winter solstice (December 22) is the shortest day of the year as this is when the sun reaches its southernmost point. It should be a time of reckoning.
“The artwork brings attention to changing subtleties of seasonal light. Each line parallels the color of the sky during twilight. With each step, the viewer seeks the end of the poem, becoming more aware of the movement of the earth and our relationship to time.—Joanna Stillwell (Artist)
“The 7th edition of GLOW is shifting to Spring and Summer 2021 – an extended, two-part series featuring a total of eight art works by local DC artists, to ensure a safer and more comfortable visitor experience. An announcement of the artists and their projects will follow in early 2021.”