EDMONDS — A colleague kept telling me about this weird runway of lights that cropped up on a street near his house in downtown Edmonds.
“What’s up with that?” he asked. He insisted he was sober when he saw it.
Sure enough, he wasn’t imagining it.
The glowing curiosity is called “Luminous Forest.”
It’s an art installation with 177 LED light elements embedded on Fourth Avenue North. The solar-powered lights have sensors that illuminate the LEDs from dusk to dawn. The lights are also triggered by interaction with people and objects.
The roadshow went live in mid-June and will shine for several years. The goal is a visual connection on this corridor from retail Main Street to the Edmonds Center for the Arts. It is funded by Edmonds arts organizations as part of the 4th Avenue Interim Art Project.
“Luminous Forest” was created by Iole Alessandrini, 54, an artist also trained in lighting and architecture.
“Most art you cannot touch, this one you can drive over,” said Alessandrini, who moved from Italy to Seattle in 1994. “It’s installation art. It’s not a traditional way of doing art.”
Her other projects include a virtual landscape, 700 feet long and 100 feet high, that uses panels, light and water to depict the void after a section of downtown Tacoma was demolished. In Seattle, she devised a light, video and sound installation in an early 20th century water tower on Capitol Hill.
The Edmonds creation spans three blocks of this side street lined with homes, a church, Rick Steves’ travel center, salons and a pub. The 6-inch diameter light fixtures don’t stand out during the day. They just look like clear, round industrial things in the road.
At night, you can’t miss them.
“Twenty minutes after the sunset, you can see them switching on. It takes seven minutes for the entire road,” Alessandrini said.
“It’s almost like soundless music because there is a rhythm that is visual.”
She extensively researched Edmonds before designing “Luminous Forest.” It’s more than a light show. It’s the history of the town.
“The topography of Edmonds is based on the shoreline of the coast,” Alessandrini said. “Edmonds was built by the pioneers in the 1800s. There was a very thick forest that survived after the Ice Age. There were really big cedar trees.”
The points of lights honor the trees. The forest of lights follows a grid made of 33 lines. “It’s a major compass to orient people to north, south, east and west,” she said.
The hardware was hard to find.
“It took a long time to find the right products because I had to search for samples and test them until I found the one that the city of Edmonds was comfortable to install,” she said.
“It had to be flush with the asphalt so people would not trip on them. So many products were bumpy and I had to look for the one that was not. It wasn’t easy. A company in China helped us find the right products. To install it was actually very easy.”
It kept getting better.
“Around the time they are ready to switch on, if a car drives over them you can see them switching on,” she said. “The sensors perceive it is dark. I didn’t know that was going to happen and I’m very happy that it does.”
It works with feet, too.
“You can actually make them light up by walking on them at sunset. You can play with the lights,” she said.
I tried it over the weekend. It was very fun to see the clear casings twinkle under my feet. I saw other people doing it, too.
Seems the LEDs are attracting other curious species as well.
“There are Pokémon on the installation,” Alessandrini said. A girl playing the pocket monster game showed her and took photos.
The luminous stretch draws dog-walkers, such as Beth Henkes, a regular, with her dachshund, Winston.
“It’s a very interesting perspective depending on where you stand,” Henkes said, waiting at a corner while the dog sniffed the grass. “From here it looks like a giant runway. As you get closer everything gets much further apart. It’s really cool. We take pictures and share it with people on social media.”
Winston was more fixated on the grass.