Just past waters glittering with the reflection of downtown Oakland lies The Gardens at Lake Merritt, where the Oakland Autumn Lights Festival is hosted by The Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt. On October 16th and 17th, the Gardens transformed into a gallery of enchanting and engaging installations sculpted with unique design and bewitching play of light. Exhibits ranged from delicately crafted and illuminated origami constructions to giant, linear structures of neon to miniature, peacefully glowing sculptures. Some people even wore costumes of light themselves, becoming living elements in the festival of light. Patrons of the event strolled along pathways lined by white paper bags illuminated from the inside that, despite their simplicity, lent the atmosphere a serene and magical quality.
The juxtaposition of nature and technology seemed harmonious and fluid as the landscape of the Gardens fused seamlessly with the luminous installations. Bioluminescent flowers floated like lilypads in the still water of the ponds, old film reels of Hawaiian surfers were projected onto palm trees, and giant, organically structured pieces pulsed with saturated color. These beautiful constructions were arranged in a field, underneath an immense, green, glowing dragon. The structures were hollowed out, leaving a small, carpeted space within just big enough for two people to lie back, enveloped by the pulsing, multicolored light.
One work that was particularly interactive featured an enormous metal structure that held a flat panel high into the air, on the bottom of which hypnotic, kaleidoscopic images danced. A circle of strangers gathered to lay on their backs with their heads together, to silently appreciate the mesmerizing piece.
While a gallery of light is already rather futuristic, the sensation was enhanced by the added element of the ZEROdB Silent Disco. For a small fee and a piece of plastic collateral, noise-canceling headphones were distributed, which had four different radio settings and changed color to display which station a particular person was listening to. The result was a playfully eerie smattering of people illuminated by different colors dancing through the Gardens, apparently silently. ZEROdB takes the win for most interactive feature of the festival.
Near the end of the track were waiting food trucks, serving everything from vegan Filipino food to waffle cones drenched in syrup. The dense, smoky haze rising from the barbecue tent attracted a family of raccoons, which delighted customers by climbing the vines along the chain link fence to investigate whether they could grab a slice of brisket without getting caught.
The Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt organize this event to fund the upkeep of the garden collections and habitats as well as public programs and demonstrations held at the Gardens. If you think you would enjoy spending time working in the Gardens and interacting with nature, the Friends of the Garden of Lake Merritt are always looking for volunteers.
By Emily Boleware
Emily is a Media Studies major with a double minor in Visual Arts and Journalism. Exploring the Bay Area’s secrets and quirks helps her find inspiration for her writing and her artwork.