The Illuminated Reef turns Can Can's parking lot into a night swim through the ocean

Images from Northern Spark.

Images from Northern Spark. Max Haynes

Can Can Wonderland is already a magical place, but it’s getting just a bit more cool this weekend when the Illuminated Reef sets up underneath the water tower outside for a two-night engagement.

Illuminated Reef

Can Can Wonderland
$10-$20 donation requested

Created by the Illuminated Reef Collective, the installation is made up of three parts: There’s the reef itself, illuminated with black lights, an aquatic library where visitors can check out glowing fish to “swim” around the reef with, and there's an underwater soundscape composed by the group.

“Coral reefs in the ocean have been in a lot of trouble, with climate change and associated things,” says Barebones co-chair Peter Schultz. "Our intent is to show its beauty by having people participate in this performance art."

The inspiration for the Illuminated Reef came from a 2014 Barebones Halloween production. Called Metamorphasoup, the show included a pre-historic ocean scene with fish lanterns.

“A lot of people were saying it was very beautiful, and we got inspired by that,” says Schultz.

From there, Schultz and othert collaborators turned the piece into an installation, which debuted at Northern Spark in 2016. It was such a success that the group was invited to another festival in Indianapolis later that year.

Visitors to the Reef become active participants. For example, you can stroll through the setup with an illuminated fish from the library. If you happen to be a musician, you’re invited to join the soundscape that goes along with the reef.

While they were developing the project, there was a massive bleaching incident in the Great Barriet Reef. So in addition to being super cool, the piece also brings awareness to the plight of natural habitats.

"The artists also practice sustainable methods while putting the reef together, using mostly repurposed materials. We didn’t spend a lot of money on new things,” Schultz says. “We pulled things from the waste stream -- that in itself was part of our statement.”

The Illuminated Reef is operated mainly by a collective of five or so artists, though they’ll have extra volunteers this weekend to help with loading it in and strike.


8 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.
Can Can Wonderland
655 Prior Ave. N., St. Paul
There is a $10 to $20 suggested donation.