One Halloween night in San Francisco in the mid 1990s, Rob Lord was impressed with the simple innovation of one woman’s costume–a jellyfish made from a clear plastic umbrella with bubble wrap strips for tentacles.
A few years later, he crafted six similar jellyfish, adding broomsticks and internal flashlights, allowing him and five friends to carry these jellies throughout Downtown Santa Cruz, California as performance art. Since then, this concept of taking large glowing jellyfish to the streets, beaches, deserts, parade grounds, or stage has blossomed–or “bloomed,” rather–into the Billion Jelly Bloom, a dance theater and large-scale puppet participatory art event the Lords call the “original crowd-surfing, dance partner-sized, Burning Man-ifested, luminous jellyfish bloom.”
Rob and Patricia Lord officially founded the Billion Jelly Bloom in 2010, a name created for a 2010 trip to the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Arizona.
The term “bloom,” refers to the state where jellyfish congregate together in large swarms, sometimes consisting of thousands of jellyfish. These blooms have been attributed to everything from population density among the animals to climate change, but whatever the reason the sight of countless jellies together is impressive to see.
The Billion Jelly Bloom consists of several 600+ lumens bright, performer-articulated jellyfish available to be part of any occasion.
Patricia Lord, who serves as lead jellyfish designer, said the blooms have been a part of events throughout the United States, including one of the most eccentric art and free expression-centered events, Burning Man Festival.
“So far we’ve choreographed participatory civic blooms at Burning Man, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and across The High Line in New York City, and during the holiday shopping frenzy in Union Square in San Francisco,” Lord said. “We’d love to take these blooms to every major city in the world, and I have preliminary route maps for Paris and San Paulo currently on my desktop.”
The Jellyfish blooms have been so popular at events, a successful crowd-funding campaign, the OMG Jellyfish Kickstarter project, was recently created to produce “home versions” of these giant invertebrate sea denizens.
The design of these jellyfish vary slightly from the ones used in the Lords’ own events, as they are created to be more easy-to-handle and portable for private use.
“Since we launched our OMG Jellyfish Kickstarter project a year ago we have distributed nearly 500 OMG Jellyfish to 30 states in the Union and six countries beyond,” Lord said.
She said she has been extremely pleased with the creative uses people have found for their own jellyfish. This includes OMG Jellyfish being used in stage productions in Latvia, at museum gala events in Houston, and at morning dance raves in London, New York, and San Francisco.
“In our backer survey folks told us they were planning to use them as a light in their children’s bedroom, at Coachella music festival, and as costumes,” she said. “One backer planned to surprise his retirement community by blooming the neighborhood sidewalk at night.”
Lord admitted she expected no less than “amazing creative” uses for the big performance art jellyfish, but has been especially thrilled to find the joy she has experienced “blooming” is consistent with the experience of other proud new jellyfish owners.
Lord, herself a mother of two, hopes the blooms inspire young and emerging artists to try something new themselves. Her advice to those wondering where to start is to throw themselves into new participatory art projects, such as an existing art project, dance troupe, flashmob, or other opportunities to become part of this interactive, communal blend of visual and performance art.
“Pay attention to those moments that you can’t stop smiling and do more of that. Then find a way to share this experience with others,” Lord said. “If you stumble onto something that is super fun for you and others then start thinking of ways to expand, either by open sourcing the idea, product, or project, or working internally to expand your events, production, et cetera.”
Lord said for her, every new bloom includes a moment of surreality, whether it’s at the playa at Burning Man or heading up an urban side street.
“I think these moments emphasize the beauty of the jellyfish swarm more than the epic fun in a dense festival environment,” she explained. “Our High Line bloom had a magical intersection with another participatory group called Decentralized Dance Party. They had a troupe of (more than) 200 participants all carrying boomboxes and dancing their asses off.”
“We had 25 jellyfish who know a thing or two about shaking their tentacles,” she said. “It was off-the-hook fun for two hours!”