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Miami Watch
by Melinda Given Guttmann


The U.S. Premiere of "Sleepless Night," an All-Night Arts Festival Miami Beach, Florida
Saturday November 3 to Sunday November 4, 2007
Reviewed by Melinda Given Guttmann


We have all suffered sleepless nights: nights of anxiety; unrequited desire; and pacing the streets alone! By contrast, this fascinating, and profoundly stimulating creation of the 'cultural takeover' of Miami, SLEEPLESS NIGHT, challenged thousands of participants from Miami, and visitors from innumerable cities and foreign countries, to stay up for thirteen hours, in an internal and environmental adventure comprised of eighty-four artistic events. Eliciting grand gaiety and quiet aesthetic contemplation, the organizers produced a wildly successful street festival scattered throughout four twisting and turning zones of beautiful, luminous Miami Beach.

Historically, SLEEPLESS NIGHT, was modeled after Nuit Blanche, (White Night), an annual homage to the arts initiated in Paris in 2002 in order to make art accessible to everyone; and illuminating the value of urban spaces through its creation. This transforming festival spread to Rome, Paris, Brussels and Madrid and now Miami as the first American city. Everything was free! Due to the generosity of private donors and public cultural institutions in Miami, they lavished the public not only with free events; but shuttle buses, food, and drink. Through the use of an interactive map, individuals could create personal itineraries. However, the crowd's choices and rhythm of the journey kept changing by sometimes following the enthusiasm of others, sometimes waiting in long lines, sometimes lingering in interactive spaces, or sometimes engaging in wonderful conversations. The diversity of events and constant movement led to undergoing a wide range of emotional responses, energy shifts which finally left only about hundred die-hards lingering on 6:00 AM in an exhilarating exhaustion.

Although no one could have possible attended all the events; a sampling sufficed to respect the high level of curatorial vision. The diversity of aesthetic experiences and inter-active art were continually surprising. The event included various forms of highly original dance, sites for dancing, puppets, film, sculpture, inter-active art, museum exhibits, concerts, performance art, and magnificent Miami Jazz, drummers, and fashions shows, by local and international artists.

The most brilliant work was Luminous III by Architects-of-the-Air, created by Englishman Alan Parkinson has been building enormous sculptures of lightweight, tensile materiels since l985. In Collins Park, there were red, green, blue and yellow domes which Parkinson felt inspired to build from cathedral and mosque architecture; as well as the geodesic domes of Buckminister Fuller and the inflatable buildings of Germany's structural engineer, Frei Otto.

Barefooted, one by one, you entered the sculpture; a maze of intersecting circular pods lit up by various intensities of red, blue, and yellow light. You are surrounded by new age music. It is like an underground world of stalactites; icons of flowers, and the ambience of a sacred futuristic cathedral. Children ran wildly through the maze. Some sat meditating by themselves in the pods. I could have stayed there for hours; it was so enchanting. Parkinson invents a new Luminarium every year. The last one had Iranian influences as its metaphor.

By contrast, the marionette show at the Bass Museum was witty, sentimental, and humorous. The hand-made marionettes were constructed of scraps of metal, stuffed with balloons, performing a vaudeville act with music from the 20's to the 4 0's including "C an-Can" and "Making Whoopie." Some of the Marionettes were a Hippo; a Cellist, and a Can-Can dancer.

Also, at the Bass museum aerial dancers performed off wires attached to the wall of the museum, wearing black leather costumes, and casting huge, ghost-like shadows on the wall from which they were suspended as they moved in various sliding patterns in suspension, and a feeling of danger.

After several hours, you could recognize SLEEPLESS NIGHT pilgrims who shone out in silver Mylar costumes which they either made themselves or were made for them in a tent on the sand on 10th Street in the heart of the art deco district of South Beach. Mostly young people decorated themselves as fantasy figures, flappers, warriors, ballet dancers, aliens from outer space, and hula dancers.

The Botanical Gardens composed one of the most beautiful and fanciful sites, hosting a variety of artistic activity and displays. On the lawn, a mesh tent teepee, lit from the inside, where people were dancing in high energy. Other dancers, who were hidden, had their silhouettes cast on a screen which concealed them. A laser beam revealed a beautiful woman marching rapidly from her body into an eight foot long string of doughnuts and back. A film of a giant ice-cream sundae with fudge sauce, sprinkles, melting and reforming mesmerized some young people sitting on a bench. A giant metal spider's feet could be put on ink pads and allow people to create patterns on papers with them.

Although Miami Beach lacks the intricate, formal architecture of Paris; its massive collections of art and famous artists, the exquisite art-deco renaissance, the curves of the beach like the cote d'adur, the sounds of the ocean, the palm trees, and scents of exotic flowers make this a unusually festive city which has unexpectedly become a new, flourishing, leader of contemporary and experimental arts which in many ways rivals New York; and which is becoming an increasingly important international center for exhibits like Basel Miami from Switzerland.

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