Launched in 2008 by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger and under the direction of curator Kathy Armstrong since 2015, Luminaria has shifted shapes, hopped locations and fielded inevitable curve balls since its inception. In certain ways mirroring the growth of San Antonio itself, the ambitious endeavor has admirably sought to outdo itself each year while staying true to its germinating seed as a multimedia nighttime arts festival sewn together in part by a common thread of light. From its use to spotlight wide-ranging performances to its appearance in dazzling projections and sculptural installations, light factors into some, but not all, aspects of this year’s Luminaria, a two-day affair at Hemisfair that spins creative inspiration from San Antonio’s Tricentennial into projects that celebrate light’s bendable beauty and explore timely topics such as immigration, oppression, gentrification and equality. In an effort to unpack Luminaria 2018, we sat down with Armstrong for a chat about what’s new and noteworthy, along with a couple of slightly geeky ways to make the most of the festival.
Getting There, Getting Around
Getting to Luminaria won’t be any harder than getting into Hemisfair — which isn’t all that easy. While you’re unlikely to score a parking meter nearby, you can cruise Southtown, Lavaca or King William for street parking or, better yet, take advantage of Via’s extended hours (until 12:30am on VIVA Culture Route 11 and VIVA Centro Route 301) or hail a discounted Lyft by using the promotional code LUMINARIA18. Once you’ve reached Hemisfair, all four of the park’s major entry points will be equipped with information booths offering free maps and programs along with Luminaira merch including the festival catalog ($10).
New Blood, New Collaborations
In response to the predictable question “What’s new this year?” Armstrong began laying out “organizational partnerships” with the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC), Contemporary Art Month (CAM), the Mexican Consulate and the Southern Fried Poetry Slam. Speaking about these partnerships, Armstrong explained that “NALAC and the Artist Foundation of San Antonio both have their own separate process for evaluating and granting artist projects, and they give major grants in some cases. So the Artist Foundation gives $15,000 to four different artists in four categories (visual arts, performing arts, literary arts and a people’s choice award determined by online voting). And then NALAC gives many, many grants to artists, especially Latino, Latina and Latinx artists. We specifically looked at their art funding for artists living in San Antonio. So the artists whose projects [those organizations] funded in San Antonio, we sent them invitations [telling them] that we would be happy to promote and produce their work at Luminaria.” While the majority of the artists contacted came on board for the festival, some felt their projects wouldn’t translate successfully. “It was the artists’ choice,” Armstrong said. “Because not everybody’s work could translate. In fact, Bonnie Cisneros, who wrote the essay that’s at the beginning of our catalog, [was] one of the people who said, ‘I love this idea, but my project is more education-based.’ But most of the artists did take us up and they are contributing.”
Spread throughout the footprint and encompassing varied disciplines (from live conjunto to time-lapse video), contributing grant winners include Fernando Andrade, Jesse J. Ruiz, Juan and Armando Tejeda, Suzy Gonzalez, Nan Cuba, Nathan Felix, Riley Robinson and Aaron Prado. As for the other three crossovers, CAM brings local artist David Alcantar to Hemisfair’s historic Schultze House for a live tattooing performance tied directly to a group exhibition featuring local artists; the Mexican Consulate selected Mexico City-based artists UNEG and Atentamente Una Fresa to create a collaborative mural on panels erected smack in the middle of the park; and the Southern Fried Poetry Slam imports award-winning word-slinger RADI for a one-off performance at UNAM-San Antonio. Speaking about this influx of award-winning talent, Armstrong summarized Luminaria’s recent outreach as an opportunity to “bring a new audience.” In addition to these creative partnerships, this year’s Luminaria came together with input from a newly reconfigured Curatorial Committee comprised of fashion designer/activist/DJ Agosto Cuellar, Alamo Music Center Vice President Adriana Flores, UTSA New Media program director Mark McCoin, curator Alana Coates, spoken-word artist/hip-hop vocalist Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson and filmmaker Guillermina Zabala.
11 Essential Projects to Seek Out
David Alcantar: ‘Skin in the Game: Act 3’
An extension of his well-received solo show/social experiment at FL!GHT Gallery, David Alcantar’s Luminaria contribution takes over the Schultze House with an exhibition featuring works by himself and local artists Joe Harjo, Ethel Shipton, Sarah Fox and Luis Valderas. Blurring boundaries between his work as a tattoo artist and his fine-art practice, the wow factor here will easily be the thrill of Alacantar live tattooing flash versions of the featured works on participants he lined up in advance. “If you’re in the audience, you can’t come to get this done,” Armstrong explained. “But we will have are temporary tattoos of those five artworks that you can come away with. He really is interested in the intersection of the two art worlds, the visual art world through academia and gallery practice versus the tattoo parlor.”
Matthew Steinke: Delirium
An Austin-based artist and composer who works with robotics, animation, sculpture and “sonic narratives,” Matthew Steinke is set to transform the gallery at UNAM with his multimedia installation Delirium. “His installations are really all-immersive,” Armstrong said. “So he uses found objects and light and creates sculptures, but he also [uses] sound — so it’s sound, light and visual art. I’m really interested in seeing how the gallery at UNAM translates with his work.”
Proyecto Diaspora: Near Strangers
Sprung from the Electronic Arts program at the National University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Proyecto Diáspora is the collaborative brainchild of artists Constanza Casamadrid (Mexico) and Juan Camilo León (Colombia). Diving directly into the Tricentennial, Casamadrid conducted research at the San Antonio Public Library and the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures to facilitate Near Strangers, a digitally mapped portrait series that puts a high-tech spin on historical narratives. “You’ll be able to touch one person’s portrait and see how it electrically connects to other people on the map,” Armstrong said. “It’s a whole new interactive art form.”
Fernando Andrade: Paredes
Known for exacting line work and photorealistic drawings that tackle socio-political themes, fast-rising San Antonio artist Fernando Andrade offers a compelling glimpse into his studio practice with Paredes, a time-lapse video documenting the creation of a new series of large-scale drawings to be unveiled at Central Library in February 2019. “It’s just a gorgeous film about the artistic process,” Armstrong said. “A lot of the artists this year have visual projections, so we were very careful to feature each of them independently throughout the night.”
Rosa Nussbaum, Kevin Choi, Trent Tunks and MaKayla Rutt: The Ghost of Germantown
Excavating some of the skeletons in Hemisfair’s closet, this collaboration between Austin artists takes shape in a “traveling caravan” conjuring the spirits of Germantown — a once-thriving community of German, Polish, Mexican and African-American residents who were displaced when the city bought the neighborhood using eminent domain in order to make way for the 1968 World’s Fair.
Patty Ortiz: WWKY: I Am Here
San Antonio artist and curator Patty Ortiz continues her Work Won’t Kill You series with a duration performance addressing the “painful quandary of involuntary childhood immigrants who thought they had qualified for a path to citizenship through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”
Suzy Gonzalez: ‘Remedios Sagrados’
Billed as a complementary version of a previous exhibition based on ideas presented in the cookbook Decolonize Your Diet: Mexican-American Plant-Based Recipes on Health and Healing, this group show curated by Suzy Gonzalez brings together artists Santa Barraza, Veronica Castillo, Jenelle Esparza, Audrya Flores, Naxieli Gomez, Arlene Mejorado, Mary Agnes Rodriguez, Alán Serna, Debora Kuetzpal Vasquez and Liliana Wilson for a creative exploration of “ancestral knowledge in relation to food, healing, spirituality and the land.”
Jose Villalobos: La Carga de la Tradición
Often exploring gender norms, gay identity and homophobia via installations and performance art, El Paso-born San Antonio artist Jose Villalobos will be activating the Luminaria footprint with La Carga de la Tradición, a roving piece Armstrong notes is “a little heavier and literally heavier” than some of the other projects on display. “He is looking at South Texas Latino culture and masculinity and will be dragging some cowboy boots full of concrete.”
Public Art San Antonio: ‘ART//craft’
Housed in a discarded shipping container tricked out with a mural by local street artist Scotch!, the group show “ART//craft” revisits some of the highlights of the Tricentennial exhibition series “Common Currents” as selected by curator Mónica del Arenal.
Justin Eastman: de Dar a Luz
Destined to be a favorite spot for selfies at Luminaria, the rainbow-hued light dome de Dar a Luz is a shining example of the colorful work of Justin Eastman, a Colorado-based software engineer who fuses elements of contemporary art and computer science.
Xavier Gilmore: Reprise
A UTSA grad recently highlighted by the Southwest School of Art, artist Xavier Gilmore uses collage, video, text and sound to investigate identity and perception. His anticipated Luminaria performance Reprise pays tribute to Bongo Joe, a late street performer who was embedded in the social fabric of downtown San Antonio from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.
If you’re one of those jaded, been-there/done-that types who’s had enough of the whole festival experience, Luminaria boasts three ways for visitors to venture out of the box and assume a more active role. Premiered last year, the Light Up the Night contest tempts guests to get dolled up in artsy (and preferably illuminated) outfits for a chance to score a swag bag packed with Luminaria goodies. Ideal for the scavenger hunters in the crowd, the returning Art Quest program presents a unique challenge to experience some of the potentially greatest hits of Luminaria 2018. After picking up a free Art Quest booklet from one of the information booths in the park, participants will set off for six destinations — Fernando Andrade’s Paredes, Matthew Steinke’s Deliriums, David Alcantar’s “Skin in the Game: Act 3,” Patty Ortiz’s WWKY: I Am Here, Laura D. Schultz’s Sea Glow and a performance by Azul Barrientos, Joel Adrian and Jay Wile — where they’ll write responses to the work and get their “passport” stamped by an educator from creative reuse organization Spare Parts. Once completed, the Art Quest can be returned at any information booth and entered for a chance to win a $100 H-E-B gift card or, better yet, free Whataburger for an entire year. Easily the most conceptual way to navigate Luminaria, New York-based Improv Everywhere invites the adventurous to download their MP3 Experiment app, which begins a countdown to Luminaria. Come Saturday at 9pm, the app will prompt users to move to various points in Hemisfair at specific times. “You will have a secret set of instructions to follow to be part of this improv piece,” Armstrong explained. “And I can’t really tell you what they are because we don’t want people to know what they are. It’s going to be super-fun to see.”
An Enlightening Day After
As Armstrong reminds, the Saturday-night portion of Luminaria “has always been a showcase event – it hasn’t been a sales event.” In the last couple of years, the festival has rolled out creative workshops and artist brunches that are designed to complement the festival but have never been hosted inside the festival’s footprint. “The festival itself is meant to inspire, it’s meant to pique your interest, expose you to new art, get you interested,” she said. “But the Sunday events [are designed] to deepen your experience. We’ve asked some of our featured artists to do a demonstration — we’ll have a glass demonstration (co-led by San Antonio’s own Justin Parr and Adam Smolensky) and two paper workshops this year (on paper-cutting techniques and creating paper lanterns from recycled materials). And then we also have a Brunch Series where you can sit down at a small table [in one of the historic houses] and talk to featured artists about the issues in their work.” Pairing featured artists “whose work is thematically connected” for conversations facilitated by members of the Curatorial Committee, this year’s brunches take shape in three intimate events ($35 per person) mining the subjects of “Migration” (with artists Patty Ortiz, Proyecto Diáspora and Ramin Samandari and curator Guillermina Zabala), “Legacy” (with artists Juan Tejeda and Jaime Umberto Mejia, and curator Adriana Flores) and “True Stories” (with author Nan Cuba, artists Susi Lopera and Xavier Gilmore, and curator Mark McCoin). Rounding out the Sunday programming is a new Artist Market stocked with works for purchase from Luminaria participants. Summing up her hopes for Sunday’s Community Arts Day, Armstrong said, “I think because we’re at the same location [both days] at Hemisfair, it’s going to be wildly successful.”
Wrapping up on a thoughtful note, Luminaria’s Closing Performance at Mission San José showcases Agarita, a local chamber ensemble that employs violin, viola, cello and piano as a means to “take classical music out of its ivory tower.” Representing collaborations with the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the National Park Service and the Western National Parks Association, the one-hour performance nods to Texas’ complex history via compositions based on Native American, Spanish, French and Mexican sounds, to be enhanced with a lighting installation created by audio/visual artist Chuck Drew. “The most amazing thing about this program is that the artists [have been given] access to interpret history in a historical site,” Armstrong said. Although seating in San José’s historic Granary is limited to 100 people, Agarita’s performance will be screened outside on the lawn, where guests can spread out blankets and enjoy the show under the evening sky.
Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival
Free, 7pm-midnight Sat, Nov. 10, Hemisfair, 434 S. Alamo St., (210) 721-1670, luminariasa.org
Community Arts Day
Free (brunches $35 per person), 11am-3pm Sun, Nov. 11, Hemisfair, 434 S. Alamo St., (210) 721-1670, luminariasa.org
Closing Performance at Mission San José
Free, 4-7pm (performance 5-6pm) Sun, Nov. 11, Mission San José, 701 E Pyron Ave., (210) 721-1670, luminariasa.org
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