Last weekend’s ONN/OF: a light festival

ONN/OF is a light festival—but what kind of light? Whether by accident, design or collective unconscious mind-meld, the second annual festival suggested light winking from distant stars, light on the bodies of deep-sea creatures, light defined by the darkness around it. 

Whereas last year’s festival gave off a burning-ember, gloom-banishing vibe, the installations and performances curated by Susan Robb and Sierra Stinson last weekend suggested dreamy, dystopian worlds. People afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder could find comfort in PDL’s cheeky Northwest Sunburn Company and workshops held by radiantly friendly artists, but some of the art might have produced anxiety—like taking a hallucinogen in a shaky frame of mind.

ONN/OF was held inside 10,000 sq. ft. of an old BMW dealership on Capitol Hill Saturday night and all day Sunday. An installation by Xhurch Collective (pictured above) welcomed people entering the warehouse with a lasers-and-mirrors tunnel shaped like the spacecraft corridors in 2001; when you put on special glasses, it recalled Dave’s trippy journey to Jupiter. It opened onto a four-spindly-legged apparatus with traveling LEDs and strange, waxy fruits and creatures assembled altar-style beneath holograms.

A map of the festival’s works matched installation titles and artist names but didn’t provide construction details or materials information. Locating all 25 pieces was a fun puzzle and it took quality time to find all the work lurking in the corners—like Erin Elyse Burns’ video “Heat Whispers” and Julie Alpert’s “Infinity Nest,” the latter of which was all but swallowed up by more obvious colors, forms and activity in an upstairs alcove.

Some of the larger installations mirrored or distorted similar large-scale pieces in last year’s festival. In 2012, a school bus was filled with neon green light, a room filled with therapy lights, and real trees surrounding the bar area. This year, a small U-Haul was filled with a pothead teenager’s sociopathic glow-in-the-dark bedroom graffiti (Lindsay Apodaca’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”), a glowing tent in which a grow light hung above a sod-and-cannabis sculpture (DK Pan’s “La Fleur Aigre,” pictured at left), and the bar area was bordered by overturned industrial carts. Black shopping bags covered the tables and Max Kraushaar’s modified Roombas roamed the lounge space like curious pets with red lasers for eyes.

All of it successfully engaged people: In Pan’s tent, a man explained to his three young sons the historical significance in our state of being able to possess, and soon grow, marijuana. A woman stroked one Roomba like a cat. People talked about shifting paradigms.

Throughout the day, workshops in the upstairs alcove charged $3–$9 to make “Possession Pouches” and hair fasteners. MKNZ and Ross Laing’s “Burning Sensation” parlor gave free stick-and-poke tattoos—a visceral shock of heat—based on designs by local artists. Over the course of the weekend they tattooed more than 40 people who won’t soon forget the festival.

A mysterious standout was Tivon Rice’s installation, “Unexpected Guests/Returning Ghosts #2,” which evoked a subway platform or an entrance to a secret-location party (pictured at left). Two mirrored doors slowly swung open and closed, reflecting light onto a pattern of clear hanging tubes that looked like the ones used to create LED “raindrops”—only with a much more subtle effect. As the doors moved, light moved across the concrete floor like sun through blinds accelerated. It took a child putting a tube directly in front of a spotlight to understand that they were sensors triggering sound.

Another highlight was a recurring modern dance performance, “Into the Light,” by Eric Aguilar and Company. Three men in glittering blue costumes worked down a ramp and through the audience in elegant, sweeping, praying, gliding movements—somber but hopeful.

An interactive piece by Nat Evans and John Teske called “Space Weather Listening Booth” was out of place at ONN/OF but should be performed again somewhere else as soon as possible. The listening booth used sounds drawn from the Aurora Borealis (making it tangentially about light) and invited participants to sit in small darkened rooms with musicians, who played one-minute segment of live music on top of a soundtrack. 

By all accounts, Friday night’s opening party was a raucous time with more than 1,200 people coming through. Saturday’s closing musical performances were as goth and esoteric as you can get—featuring Lori Goldston and Jessica Kenney’s cello and voice, and the motorik psych of Midday Veil.

Photos by Miguel Edwards. Click on a thumbnail below to launch the slideshow.