Borealis is a free, nighttime excuse to walk around in the dark high out of your mind. Also great for kids!
Borealis is a free, nighttime excuse to walk around in the dark high out of your mind. Also great for kids! Screenshot from this video

Last night, I had a cocktail at Ba Bar and 20 mg. of weed chocolate from The Reef and strolled around outside MOHAI with a friend who wanted to see the light show. I hadn't read up on what we were doing and I assumed Borealis was just going to be a single projection lighting up MOHAI, but that's not it was at all.

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The exterior of MOHAI was mapped "with laser scanning all points of the structure within 1 millimeter accuracy," Geekwire reports, and then that digital map was provided to artists around the world, who submitted entries to a contest with a prize of $5,000. "Each pixel of the production is specifically mapped to the uneven surface of MOHAI so that it looks like the building is coming alive. The 2D animation almost takes on the look of 3D to the naked eye, without the aid of special glasses."

This video explains it better than words can:

The light-art contestants from around the world were narrowed down to six. The ones in the show are from Turkey, the U.S., Japan, Russia, Slovakia, and China. Again, all of them were making art specifically for this one building in South Lake Union. Some of the artists were present last night as I was walking around in the dark, although I had no idea, among the crowds of silhouettes, who they were.

The audience gathers every hour to see the show (the free tickets you're supposed to sign up for beforehand stagger the crowds) and then the audience gets to vote on their favorite. My friend voted for China and I voted for the U.S. (The U.S. entry wasn't my favorite visually, but it was funny, unlike the others, and it had a great beat. It was created by artist George Berlin, of Chicago.)

Honestly, my very favorite one was the piece that showed before the competing artists—the one created by the producer of Borealis, Maxin10sity.

The entry from Russia, which said it was based on a poem by Brodsky, looked neat at first but devolved into obnoxious explosions while what sounded like a drunk incomprehensible Christian yelling at me played on the loudspeakers. No, thanks, Russia. I have enough incomprehensible Christians yelling at me at my day job.

After the Russia entry, one guy in the back near the VIP booth started clapping. One. After all the other entries, the whole crowd clapped. After the one from Russia? Just this solo guy. So... I'm pretty sure I know which figure in the dark was the Russian artist.

Throughout the grounds surrounding MOHAI, there are more pieces of glowing blue art. "Am I in Iceland?" my friend said. It all looked pretty magical, but then we were taking hits of a vape pen, so I'm probably not the best judge. The art on display was enhanced by the lit-up cranes in SLU and the lights of Queen Anne and the Space Needle. All I could think was: I'm not nearly high enough. I should have taken hallucinogens.

Borealis runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at MOHAI, and it looks like Friday and Saturday's shows are sold out.