- - Friday, December 13, 2013

The human eye gravitates to light. Lights brighten rooms, window displays and theatrical stages. Candles memorialize departed souls, lanterns pierce the dark, spotlights illuminate single objects, and streetlights aid pedestrians and drivers.

Lights make their greatest impact during the shortest days of the year, when religious holiday traditions are celebrated with menorahs, Christmas trees and festive light displays in homes and communities across the country. This season, Travesias de Luz showcases Georgetown with a vibrant light display, a highlight of the District’s inaugural Fete des Lumieres through Dec. 20. It is inspired by the annual light festival in Lyon, France, with spectacular exhibitions created by designers around the world.

Founded in 2011 and based in Madrid, the designers of Travesias de Luz were invited to participate in the French Light Festival in Georgetown after their “Floating Lights” exhibit in Lyon drew international attention last year. They came to the District under the auspices of the Alliance Francaise.

“With our first project [in Georgetown], we wanted to light the streets in order to change the environment,” Luisa Alvarez, the group’s creative director, told The Washington Times on Wednesday, a few hours after arriving from Spain. “When we change the environment with lights, we change the mind of pedestrians by showing them a new way to look at a familiar place. Our display begins at Washington Harbor so that people driving along the harbor will see a small bit of color. They will be so intrigued that they will want to get out of their cars and walk around to see more.

“Sometimes the light of our displays comes from inside, while other times it floats. The exciting moment is when people discover that they can take part in the display. They not only see it, but they also can touch it. We use common materials in the display that can be easily handled. At our project in Lyon, France, children and young people loved playing in the lights once they learned they could touch everything, and adults were just as entranced. Crowds attending our display in Frankfurt, Germany, had the same reaction.”

To prepare for the Friday opening of Fete des Lumieres, a team of four organized each step well in advance, right down to scheduling volunteers. Everything was made by hand after their arrival from materials obtained locally. “We plan ahead carefully,” Ms. Alvarez said. “We love to see the reactions of people when they realize they can play with the installations. It’s an interesting social situation as one by one they begin experimenting with the displays. Wherever we go, people show big respect for us and our work, and they tell us that we inspire them to create beauty.”

“Floating Lights,” designed by Ms. Alvarez and featuring a 10-by-32-foot interactive light wall of inner tubes, is at Washington Harbour. Her other work, “Ciudad Habitada,” a collection of LED-lit mannequins positioned in everyday activities, is on Thomas Jefferson Street, between M and K streets.

Other installations featured at the festival are: “Larsen 3G” by Thoeriz Crew, a collection of interactive video projections, and “Zodiac” by Chloe Yaiche, a projection of NASA satellite imagery of constellations. Both are at JBG, 1025 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, the first in the courtyard, the second in the covered entrance. “The Speaktree,” designed by Lucion Media of Montreal, is an illuminated tree on which messages from the public are projected. The interactive installation can be seen at Grace Church, 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Visitors also may enjoy attending the festival’s opening night party at Malmaison on Friday and another at L2 Lounge on Saturday. The featured international artists of the festival will attend both evenings of music and mingling beginning at 9 p.m. The required tickets are available at www.francedc.org/events/?id=239.

The artists also will speak at the Embassy of Spain Monday at 6:30 p.m.

WHAT: Fete des Lumieres Georgetown

WHERE: Event map at www.francedc.org/data/images/finalfdlgmap.jpg

WHEN: Friday through Dec. 20

ADMISSION: Free

WHAT: Artist Talk: Urban Light Installations by the Travesias de Luz team

WHERE: Embassy of Spain, 2375 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday

TICKETS: Free, but RSVP required: contact@spainculture.us.

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