by Tom Elrod
Despite some rain and colder weather, the four-day event called SPARKcon, the sixth-annual celebration of Raleigh's creativity, was well-attended and included a number of great showcases for local and independent artists.
SPARKCon is organized around various “Sparks,” collaborative groupings of artists around a theme. These range from groups like danceSPARK and theaterSPARK to geekSPARK (technology) or wheelSPARK (skateboarding). One of the most fun aspects of SPARKcon is wandering into a building off of Fayetteville Street and coming across a SPARK you didn't know about while witnessing a demonstration of something new and innovative.
GeekSPARK probably tops the list in that regard. Their independent video game exhibition allowed one to play the latest apps and games from local developers on XBoxes and iPads. Many of these games were also featured at the recent Game On Raleigh. Some were silly fun, such as Ninja Hamster Attack from Nakai Entertainment, and some were really addicting puzzles like Cylinder, a 3D Tetris-like game from Mighty Rabbit Studios.
GeekSPARK also hosted the Digital Motion Showcase, an interactive, digital art gallery featuring video and computer installations. Think of a DIY Epcot attraction, and you'll start to get the picture: a room whose colored lighting is controlled by musical notes; video art that incorporates footage of you standing and watching the same video; a photo booth which creates distorted (and occasionally disturbing) renderings of its subjects. The exhibits are an opportunity for local designers and programmers to play around, experiment, and have some fun.
One of the nice things about SPARKCon is the serendipity of making connections across mediums and artistic pathways, which is why wandering into the artSpark gallery shortly before the Digital Motion Showcase was a great combination of visual forms. The gallery features work from local artists, including photography, oils and acryllics, and mixed-media pieces. There was no central theme to the gallery. It was just a chance to show some recent work. Nevertheless, its location around the corner from the Digital Motion showcase made me aware of the similarities in the work of digital designers and physical artists, both working on enhancing visual experience in different ways.
This collusion of visual experiences carried over into bazaarSPARK, the large showcase of local artistans and craftspeople who were selling their wares up and down Fayetteville Street; artSPARK's Pod exhibits, sculpture installations done inside of transportable PODS which could be seen in and amongst the bazaar; a Friday night fashion show from fashionSPARK; and the large, creative sidewalk drawing competition, where groups decorated Fayetteville street itself with a wide variety of designs and images throughout the weekend. All around at SPARKcon, the visual artists of various stripes were finding ways to display their crafts.
Performing artists were out and about, as well. CircusSPARK, holding juggling demonstrations and dressed as you would expect circus performers to dress, may have been the most noticeable, but SPARKcon also saw performances—both on its main stage at Hannover Square and indoors at the Raleigh Ensemble Players—by a variety of dance, theatrical and cinematic groups as well. TheaterSPARK included excerpts from upcoming productions of Evita and Of Mice and Men, and an original one-act from Bare Theater called The Shakespeare Zone, a comical mash-up of Shakespeare and modern television. (One characteristic segment saw the detectives from Law and Order trying to get to the bottom of a spate of gang murders in fair Verona.) Rounding out the performances were a number of local bands performing onstage at Hargett Street, providing the soundtrack to SPARKcon for anyone walking by or stopping in for a drink at Raleigh Times.
There's almost too much at SPARKcon, stretching as it does from the Natural History Museum down to the Progress Energy Center and lasting for the entire weekend. But that's one of its charms: Rarely do so many local artists get such a large and public venue to interact and show off their work. Some are professionals and some are just hobbyists and enthusiasts, but everyone displayed a bit of the creativity and innovation (and dare I say, “spark?”) of what makes the Triangle such an exciting place for the arts.