Otherworldly Creek Show lights up Waller Creek through Nov. 17

November 08, 2019

Despite a blue norther that dropped temps from the 80s to the 40s and ushered in a chilly rain, we trekked downtown yesterday evening for the opening night of Creek Show, an annual light-art installation along Waller Creek, which is being developed as a chain of parks and walking trails called Waterloo Greenway. We were determined to avoid the hordes we encountered on the final night of last year’s Creek Show and figured, rightly, that the cold weather and spotty rain would keep people away.

Light House

As we entered the trail just east of 9th Street and Red River, glimpsing Light House across the creek, I mused that, thanks to the bad weather keeping people away, it was like Austin used to be, when you could find reasonably close parking and walk right into whatever you’d come to see, no waiting in line. Memory! All alone in the moonlight, I can dream of the old days…

The trail starts with Light House, which is cantilevered over the creek like a tent platform. Colored light strings make swaying, permeable walls, doorways, and roof. Against the darkness of the surrounding trail, the lighted strands create a comic-book effect, as if you’re walking through a colored sketch of a house. Here’s the official description:

Light House challenges the visitor’s notion of what a wall is. We break down the “wall” by physically changing it into something that is as minimal as possible: curtains of light. The entrance to the house is clearly marked with an opening that serves as a doorway. Once inside, doorways diminish and then disappear. Visitors are drawn into successive rooms by different colors and obscured views of visitors in other rooms. The only way forward is by moving through the walls. What if we saw other boundaries in our life in the same way? Obstacles that feel impassable become something we can move through.

by Norma + Sunny

Downstream Upcycle

Environmental themes are perennially popular at Creek Show. This year Downstream Upcycle makes a powerful statement about our culture of wastefulness:

Downstream Upcycle uses more than 17,000 hotel shampoo bottles and repurposes them into a colorful wave of glowing lanterns. Our interest in these bottles stems from the symbolism they carry for the rapidly growing tourism economy in Austin surrounding Waller Creek—roughly representing the amount used by downtown hotels within one day. The bottles have been filled with a UV-reactive dye to glow under black light and are attached to 100 recycled metal barrels sourced from the community.

By recontextualizing materials like this commonly entering local landfills, the installation highlights the challenges of current waste management practices and their impacts on Waller Creek. Words like watershed, downstream and upstream describe both the hydrologic system of our city and the cradle-to-grave movement of objects as they are made, acquired and discarded or repurposed. We hope that visitors leave with a visual understanding of the products we consume and the impact they have long after their use has ended.

by Design Workshop

Towers of discarded shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bottles from local hotels, glowing under black light, make a fun selfie backdrop…

…but seeing all that plastic rubbish makes me appreciate the recent efforts of some hotels to eliminate these disposable conveniences.


Along a rocky stretch of the creek, AURORA‘s vertical rods of white light flicker and flash like stylized lightning.

As the website explains:

AURORA is a matrix of identical luminaires suspended over Waller Creek. Each column of light is an autonomous element that is linked to the whole: individually responding to specific sounds and movements while simultaneously operating within a single procedurally generated sequence. With every flash of light or quiver of sound, the grid comes alive, an ever changing constellation that plays through the creek bed. In this manner, AURORA occupies the site and displays the capacity of a place to simultaneously shape, but also be shaped by its environment. Like Waller Creek itself, AURORA lies somewhere between order and chaos, infrastructure and nature, intention and accident.

by 1909B


Our favorite installation was meander, ribbons of blue fabric hanging from a tunnel’s ceiling and representing the aquifers that recharge our groundwater. You “swim” through the watery tendrils like otters in a kelp forest. It was magical and a selfie favorite for every visitor passing through.

The official description:

m e a n d e r is envisioned as a fissure in a supernatural aquifer. Like water in underground caves, flows of visitors have symbolically eroded and carved a whimsical passageway. The installation is tactile and playful, encouraging people to walk through the dangling tendrils within the cave. Meander transforms a lifeless piece of infrastructure into a mystical and captivating experience. Creating a moment for discovery and wonderment, meander subtly reveals the invisible forces responsible for the natural features that all Austinites cherish.

by frankev

String Theory

Comparatively static and non-interactive on the far side of the creek, String Theory

…explores the unity of light and water in a unique and colorful way. The piece continuously twists reflecting life’s unexpected journeys. Harmonious strings mimic the soft flow of Waller Creek as the water reflects the vibrant colors back. This interplay between light and water symbolizes life’s road: it is filled with dark spots, yet is illuminated with dazzling colors that create the kaleidoscope we call life. String Theory creates a unified and playful walkway for all to experience.

by Boka Powell

The Ghost Boat

My second favorite installation was The Ghost Boat, a haunting assemblage of rowing oars that, taken together, evoke the undulating backbone and ribs of some otherworldly swimming creature. Speakers play the sounds of oarlocks creaking and water dripping.

As the official description explains:

Once Upon A Time…
An Austinite, traveler of waters, got lost in the beauty of the creek and went missing.

To this day, nobody knows their whereabouts, but on a quiet misty morning, you can hear the sound of paddles dipping into the water and a ghostly glow in the distance.

To re-connect with the lost history of Waller Creek, we used our own folk tale to evoke the feeling of a bygone era and inspire contemplation of the role the creek has played in Austin’s past. We were inspired by themes that are integral to Austin’s identity; natural beauty, music and water. In collaboration with our fabrication partners, Mother Built, we wanted to inspire awe with the vision of glowing paddles rowing along the creek, unmanned and mysterious. In partnership with local musicians, guesthouse and SlowBurst, we developed a soundscape to help create an immersive experience for creek visitors.

by Nelsen Partners

Creek Monster Habitat

As you exit the creek trail at 11th St. and Red River, you find yourself in the lair of the Creek Monster, the fishy, Creature from the Black Lagoon-style mascot of Creek Show. Strands of glowing “seaweed” stream around the creature’s hut.

Enter if you dare! Clusters of glowing green eyeballs wink at you from the shaggy lair. It’s a fun way to end the show. From here you can walk across the street to Waterloo Greenway’s headquarters, where live music can be enjoyed on non-rainy evenings and you can buy Creek Monster souvenirs and view an architectural model of the park.

Creek Show 2019 is free and open to the public November 7 through 17, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. nightly. Enter at 700 E. 9th Street.

For my posts about Creek Show in previous years:

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