Illuminated balloons to sail across, light up Sunset Lake

Matthew Kramer ’13, an Urban Studies major, will unveil his senior project on May 2. The project, titled “Night Light,” will place 1000 LED-filled balloons in Sunset Lake. The event will be accompanied by multiple performances. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Matthew Kramer ’13, an Urban Studies major, will unveil his senior project on May 2. The project, titled “Night Light,” will place 1000 LED-filled balloons in Sunset Lake. The event will be accompanied by multiple performances. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Matthew Kramer ’13, an Urban Studies major, will unveil his senior project on May 2. The project, titled “Night
Light,” will place 1000 LED-filled balloons in Sunset Lake. The event will be accompanied by multiple performances. Photo By: Spencer Davis

Imagine approximately 1000 balloons floating on the surface of Sunset Lake. They have been inflated by an air compressor and they glow with different colors. LEDs reside within them, illuminating and coloring them. The sky has just grown dark, and Sunset Lake is now a collection of light.

If this appeals to you, you are in luck. Urban Studies Academic Intern Matthew Kramer ’13 has created for his senior project this interactive presentation. The event, titled Night Light, is currently scheduled for May 2 with a rain date of May 7. It will begin once it is dark and will continue until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., whereupon the balloons will be removed from the lake and disposed of.

As a study of art and community space, Night Light encourages community members to bring food to the event and pick up the balloons, moving them from one part of the lake to another. As of now, approximately ten performance groups will be involved in Kramer’s project. Entertainment will most likely include a cappella music and the dexterity of The Barefoot Monkeys, Vassar’s student-run circus group.

Kramer, who has been working on this project since the beginning of the school year, took inspiration from a project called WaterFire which was created in 1994 by Barnaby Evans and revived annually in subsequent summers. “It was an art project that transformed Providence and its downtown. There were basically a bunch of bonfires in the middle of the river in the downtown and boats would go alongside them. People would sit on these areas that were designed on the banks of the river,” said Kramer.

“It really changed the downtown and brought new life into the city,” he continued, “and I wanted to experiment with a similar type of art event that brought people to a new place they didn’t usually go to in Vassar.” Although Sunset Lake may not be the most popular hangout, Kramer explained that he sees it as a center of Vassar’s campus.

For Kramer, the project is very much an interactive one. “It’s not really about the art piece. Putting an LED in a balloon does not have a profound meaning. It’s not that complex,” he said. Instead, the project relies on its audience members. “It’s not that I want them to particularly walk away with anything. I want them to enjoy the experience of it and feel like they could make a similar piece or do something similar,” Kramer stated. He went on to explain the appeal and usefulness of aesthetics in his project. “When you have a bonfire, there’s just something about it that’s inherently pretty. We’re attracted to that. We think the stars are pretty; we think fireflies are pretty. And a thousand balloons glowing on a pond are inherently beautiful,” he said. “It’s about the fact that just because of this event, people are going to come to this space and enjoy it,” Kramer continued, “because the space has been transformed. That’s the piece. It’s not about a singular balloon. It’s not about a thousand balloons. It’s about the experience of the event.”

Kramer, who has a Studio Art correlate, believes that the project does not have to be categorized as a piece of art or as a performance. “I don’t know how to define it,” he said, “but I know it when I see it.”Nevertheless, as an Urban Studies major, Kramer believes that Night Light requires an audience to see and enjoy it. “It’s more about having it be an event than something to just look at for five minutes and then leave,” he said. If the project is worthwhile for the audience, Kramer explained, it will be worthwhile for him.

Kramer maintained enjoying the process of putting together this project and highly recommended becoming an Urban Studies major. “They’re really open to letting you do what you want to do,” he said. He explained that for him personally, the option of doing a senior project was preferable to taking a 300 level course or writing a thesis.

“You want something that makes you think, ‘This is really going to make my experience at Vassar better,’” he said. “It’s about working on something harder than you’ve worked on anything else. It’s about dedicating a lot of time to something, thinking about it, and having a lot of follow-through, whether that be for a paper or a project,” he continued.

One of the advantages of doing an Urban Studies project, Kramer confided, is its potential for practical application. “Doing a project,” he said, “is academically challenging. It’s a coordination experience.” Though Buildings and Grounds lent him access to Sunset Lake without much difficulty, Kramer confided that organization is the most difficult part of his project. “I’ve already rescheduled this event three times. There’s always something else going on on campus. There was a lot of planning and thinking about different ways the event could work and how the space could be used.”

Despite the difficulties, realizing an Urban Studies project is useful. “It’s not like the world is just about writing papers. Organizing events is an important skill as well, or working with companies—whatever it is that you choose as your project, whether it be designing a building or writing creative pieces,” Kramer said.

“I wanted to do a project instead of a thesis,” he continued, “and it’s been an incredibly rewarding process.”

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