Le Flash burns bright in Castleberry Hill

The public art all-nighter returns for year two

On Oct. 2 in Castleberry Hill, a man will interrogate a house plant. Zombie films will crawl along vacant walls. Choreographed dancers will work their moves into the space of a 30-foot box truck. A swarm of cyclists will glow in the night. Up and down Peters and Walker streets, in the alleyways, on front doorsteps, from moving cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, there will be light in Castleberry Hill. For the second time, Le Flash will transform the neighborhood into a massive collaboration of light-based public art. The next morning, it will all be gone.

In the summer of 2008, Cathy Byrd and Stuart Keeler sat facing Tilt Coffee's front window, trying to dream up a new project. After brainstorming in silence for some time, they turned to one another in a moment of simultaneous inspiration. “The words 'Nuit Blanche' came out of our mouths at the same time,” says Keeler, an artist and independent curator. French for “all-nighter,” Nuit Blanche is an annual nighttime arts event that began in Paris in 2002. The ambitious display calls for artists, galleries, businesses, and communities to work in concert to create a single evening of experimental celebration. Many cities have adopted their own versions, including Berlin, Madrid and Montreal. Byrd, executive director of Maryland Art Place in Baltimore, and Keeler set out to see what Atlanta could produce.   

As Byrd describes it, “Le Flash is ... where artists lead the community with true collaborative spirit coming together; when light animates art in public space.” Last year’s event accomplished as much, but the fundraising process wore out Byrd and Keeler. Le Flash couldn’t happen again if they had to be responsible for finding the funding, Keeler explained.    

In May of this year, though, an anonymous donor stepped forward. After casually speaking with Keeler about Le Flash's uncertain future, the donor asked to see the budget and eventually offered $40,000. “This is a person who cares so much about the arts and culture of our city,” Keeler says. With the donor's help, Le Flash is working toward becoming a nonprofit organization. A transition to nonprofit status would ensure the event's presence in Atlanta for years to come. Once the funding was in line for 2009, Byrd and Keeler enlisted Lisa Thrower, MOCA-GA's former manager of collections, as a project manager and began the curatorial work.  

Since holding an open call for submissions last June, the group's fielded a deluge of entries. Justin Cooper will travel from Chicago to “interrogate” a house plant with a spray bottle and lamps. Lauri Stallings, the dancemaker who collaborated with Antwan “Big Boi” Patton for Atlanta Ballet’s Big, will orchestrate the dance piece "Pour" throughout the evening with gloATL. Fahamou Pecou and Michael Reese have created “N Yo’ Face,” a look at race through View-Masters.

Keeler stresses that emerging artists play an important role. Chris Chambers, for example, wasn’t part of the official event last year. Through a friend, though, he found out that he could set up a video installation in the back of Tilt to allow people to see his work during Le Flash. “We wanted to know who did this wonderful piece,” Keeler said. “We really love this spirit of collaboration.” This year, Chambers’ work is included in the official schedule of curated work.   

Keeler believes that events such as Le Flash and Nuit Blanche galvanize an experimental spirit not readily found elsewhere. “The bienniale scene is so stale,” he says. Chambers agrees, saying, “Those events are like very clean flea markets. You move from cubicle to cubicle just looking at things to purchase.” Le Flash maintains an element of unpredictability that more strictly curated events can’t take on.  

The Atlanta "establishment" is quickly warming to Le Flash. On Sept. 21, the group was invited to a City Council meeting during the rainstorms that later flooded parts of Atlanta. The group was presented with a plaque honoring its achievements for the city. “We walked up behind the Council in our pink T-shirts and stood while Kwanza Hall of District 2 read a proclamation,” Thrower said. As the members left the meeting, the torrential rains broke for a moment and Le Flash's organizers walked out of City Hall into the light.

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