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Providential Happening

A fiery installation draws crowds in Providence, Rhode Island, illuminating a "daylighting" trend

Does WaterFire mean anything in particular? Is it a takeoff on a religious rite? A commentary on the lack of meaningful ritual in American life? Evans says it’s open to interpretation. "It is a ritual and a ceremony that refers to scores of religious festivals, as well as contemporary art," he says. "But I didn’t want all that symbolism to get in the way of someone enjoying it simply for the beauty of it."

The music, emanating from invisible loudspeakers alongside the rivers, seems to come not from a single point but from all of Providence, as if the city were one instrument. The heat from the fires, the cedar smoke and the rhythms and chants seem to transport visitors to another time and place. Around midnight, after the crowds have drifted away, people still sit by the riverbanks, staring into the flames. Not until the fires die do they seem to rediscover themselves, shake themselves out and head for home.

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