Bliss Central for Triangle NC This Weekend is Katena

Madison 2011 colored

I am SO excited, because I just found out that one of my favorite unusual art forms will be on display this weekend in Raleigh, NC!

On May 19-21, downtown Raleigh will be host to one of its biggest annual art festivals, Artsplosure.  As usual, Artsplosure will feature all varieties of the arts:  visual arts, music, dance, and theater.  There will be fire jugglers wandering through the crowds and theatrical performances on the free R-line bus that loops around the downtown area.  People can play music on artist-painted pianos and kids can make hats, sun catchers, pins, and mobiles.  Over 170 juried artists will be selling a wide variety of art from booths lining the streets, accompanied by food and drink vendors.  And there is a student art show in the PNC Plaza Lobby that shouldn’t be missed (true confession:  I’m biased because my son drew a piece that was selected for the 145 artworks on display for this juried show).

So, of course, I go to Artsplosure every year for the art and the fun.  But in checking out the schedule, I discovered that after a 5 year absence (at least, according to my memory), Architects of Air will be returning with a new variety of their unique temporary sculptures known as luminaria.  I have encountered luminaria twice before at Artsplosure in 2010 and 2011, and I promise you, it is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Luminaria are made of PVC plastic and then inflated, like the big bouncy houses that are popular with children today.  However, the luminaria are designed using principles from Islamic architecture, Gothic cathedrals, and geometric shapes.  Numerous pods stuck together to create kind of a maze for people to walk through.  But once you enter the luminarium, you are bathed in color and light and an ethereal beauty.  And while the experience delights the senses, it also restores the soul.  The pure color-filled light has such a healing, meditative energy that I, at least, immediately feel relaxed just stepping into the space.  So I wander through the labyrinth, encountering a new beautiful surprise  around each twist and turn.  It is kind of like a mix between a futuristic space station and an ancient cathedral, except dedicated to nothing but light, color, and beauty.  It is a piece of art, but also a spiritual experience, at least for me.

Because what you are really experiencing is the light, it can morph and change with the weather conditions outside and the shadows cast within by the participants.  The light mixes together to produce a rainbow of many different shades and hues, although they only use 4 colors of plastic in the construction.  (Another true confession:  when I went to my first luminarium in 2010, the volunteer told me that but I didn’t believe him, and went out to look at the outside walls to confirm the fact.  Of course, he was right, but it is amazing all the colors Architects of Air can coax out of those 4 varieties of PVC.)

This year, the featured luminarium is called Katena.  Below is the description AoA has for this construction:

Built in 2016, Katena takes its name from the catenary curve – the shape of a chain suspended between 2 points. Gaudi used suspended chains when he designed the Sagrada Familia. The catenary has a visual sympathy with pneumatic forms and in Katena.

Entering the airlock provides the first encounter with the catenary as the airlock windows are in the form of the inverted catenary. Proceeding then to the first of the 3 dodecahedral domes the catenary makes its appearance as a motif generated by displaced seams.  Catenary curves may be found elsewhere in the structure – altogether there are more than 100.

The Main Dome of Katena is said to resemble a pineapple and has been likened to a Hindu temple from the inside.  Its construction was particularly intricate with a fine mesh of riveted and sewn reinforcement defining the shape and over 200 colour spots swirling upward to a green finial.

The Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona by surrealist architect Antoni Gaudí is one of my favorite buildings in the world, so I can hardly wait to go visit what I know will be another extraordinary space of beauty and light.

So if you are anywhere near the Raleigh area, do yourself a favor and come experience this transformative sculpture.  Katena is open from 1-7 on Friday and 11-7 on Saturday and Sunday.  Tickets are $6/person (children 4 and under are free).  Then stick around for the rest of Artsplosure, which is FREE and runs from 11 to 8:30 Friday, 10 to 9:30 on Saturday, and 10 to 7 on Sunday (student art show is only open noon-5 on Friday and 11-4 Saturday and Sunday because it is in an office building on Fayetteville Street).


If you aren’t in North Carolina, then perhaps AoA will be visiting your community sometime soon.  They state that “Since 1992, over 3 million visitors in 41 countries across 5 continents have immersed themselves in the spectacular, luminous world of Architects of Air.”  You can check out their touring schedule here.  Or you can watch the video below.  But if you have the chance, there is nothing like experiencing a luminarium in person.  You’ll be glad you did!




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