Illuminated spheres float down the Bow River in 2010.
“A sense of wonder pervaded as, silently, the multicolored constellation emerged from the surrounding blackness. The spheres converged and dispersed, mapping the river’s topography as they disappeared around islands and materialized back into view.” This vivid description comes from Canadian writer Linda Hawkins, who witnessed the 2010 River of Light in Calgary. And in commemoration of the recent World Water Day, we take a look at the origins, aims and future of the River of Light itself.
Floating green spheres resplendent
Hawkins’ account conveys some of the excitement and wonder that accompanies the River of Light event. Part art installation, part awareness campaign, the River of Light was first launched in 2008 on London’s River Thames. On that occasion, 250 illuminated spheres were released along a one-mile (1.5 kilometer) section of the river in Windsor-Eton.
The spheres’ glow is reflected in the water.
Since the first event in London, the River of Light has traveled – evolving as it has done so – to the Bow River in Canada (where most of these images are from) and on to Red Deer, Alberta (also in Canada) for this year’s event. The object of the undertaking is to highlight the conservation of water and rivers all over the planet.
Multicolored light balloons near Calgary
In June 2013, floating, light-filled barrels will sail down the Red Deer River, commemorating the city of Red Deer’s 100th birthday. The barrels will replace the lit spheres of previous years; and the river, which is a water supply for the area, will become a center for sculpture installations and sound shows.
Setting the spheres adrift in the river
“The project takes the functional object [of] the rain barrel and transforms it into a sculptural, structural, modular light object that becomes the basis for a large-scale floating light installation,” explains Laura Jennings of Creatmosphere, the art studio behind the project. “This light barrel sheds new light on issues surrounding water preservation and river conservation by illuminating rivers around the world.”
Leaves silhouetted against the glowing orbs
On the Bow River in Calgary, the last River of Light in 2010 drew 10,000 visitors and was declared one of the top 50 exceptional art projects for the year. The highlight was the 500 glowing orbs, which were floated along a 4.5-mile (7.5-kilometer) section of the river.
White spheres sitting on the Bow River
In addition to the free-floating balloons, 28 six-and-a-half-foot (two-meter) balls were released into a lagoon. These formed a matrix whose lights and movement reacted to live data – everything from water quality to demand – on the Bow River. Though largely a nighttime event, the River of Light also included some groups of daylight spheres.
Light barrels for 2013's River of Light in Red Deer River
Creatmosphere are in preparation for the upcoming River of Light in June 2013. They have been collaborating with students at Red Deer College to develop this year’s floating light barrels. As mentioned previously by Jennings, these objects are inspired by rain barrels and will act as a local symbol of the world’s water usage.
Glowing balloons and lit trees
However, the barrels are being created not only to float down the river. The organizers and college students are working on making a flexible design that will allow the individual cylinders to be joined together to create structures for projections and other displays. The cylinders could even be turned into water-based musical instruments.
The surreal sight of the illuminated spheres on the water
Production of the light barrels is being helped by financial donations. People worldwide are able to contribute to the campaign to create the barrels, which will later be given to the Red Deer community as a present. The barrels will be a lasting icon for maintaining awareness of sustainable water usage.
Spheres float under a bridge.
This year’s River of Light coincides with the International Year of Water Cooperation. Cooperation was also the theme of this year’s World Water Day, on 22 March; the day is held each year to encourage sustainable management of this essential resource. Unfortunately, increasing pressure on our global water reserves is one of the planet’s most pressing issues.
Blue spheres create a River of Light
Pressures on freshwater reservoirs around the world include pollution, growing urban populations, and climate change. As demand increases, it is becoming more and more difficult to supply increasing agricultural, industrial and household water requirements. Through the theme of cooperation, the United Nations (UN) aims to encourage us to ensure access to clean water for all, helping combat societal and economic inequality and promoting peace.
Spectators and volunteers at Canada’s Bow River
The River of Light campaign uses art to inspire us to think about the rivers of the world and how to preserve our water sources. Creatmosphere assures us that this year’s event will be larger than the previous two, which means it ought to be truly spectacular.
More large spheres
“We are looking to engage people from all over the world in spreading the message of the project whilst demonstrating how art and technology can be used to raise awareness of these issues in an innovative and community-focused way,” says Jennings.
Fade to orange
To discover more about the River of Light project and find out how you can become part of the campaign, visit River of Light and their fundraising site. It’s an event worth supporting, as it aims to spread awareness of global water issues while creating beautiful installations for everyone to enjoy.