Friday, February 19-Monday, February 22 at Camp Keanae YMCA
Colorful, larger-than-life fuzzy cupcakes on wheels, powered by humans on bikes. An enormous, rideable LED- and propane-lit dragonfly with mechanical controls like those on a forklift. A replica of an oil derrick, 200 feet tall, rigged with a record-setting amount of jet fuel exploding into a mushroom cloud above you. A “psychic taxi cab” ride that takes you not to your chosen destination, but where you are “meant to go.” A 30-foot pedal-powered strobe-lit zoetrope that spins around you, depicting monkeys swinging in trees being fed apples by snakes. A giant dragon sculpture made entirely of discarded furniture found on the streets of Brooklyn.
This is my kind of art—playful, big Burning Man art—and until recently, I could only find it in the middle of the remote Nevada desert, in a temporary city that only exists one week out of the year. Now I can find it on Maui. And so can you.
First, a little background in case you haven’t heard of Burning Man. The Burning Man festival is entering its 24th year in 2010, and is expected to be larger than ever. Started in 1986 by radical arts supporter Larry Harvey, Burning Man began as a small bonfire gathering on a beach in Northern California and has grown into a massive pilgrimage that brings tens of thousands of people to a remote part of the Nevada desert.
Imagine wandering an enormous, barren landscape that has been transformed into a tent and RV city. Now imagine that this city is filled with some of the most intelligent, radically open-minded, generous, self-reliant humans you’ll find anywhere. These humans are constantly giving you things—food, drink, shelter, friendship—all for free with no strings attached, and you are giving these things to others. Then, do away with any commercial activity—nothing is bought or sold. Next, realize that you are free to play there for an entire week. Everywhere you look, you see works of art and radical performances (music, dance, etc.), and it’s all a stimulating two-way conversation.
The event is really a work of art in itself, a composite of the gifts that each person has brought to the table. Everything is begging for exactly what only you can uniquely provide—your own specific brand of participation and interaction. Then, after a week of participating, you go home, everything is gone, and the desert “playa” is clean and empty again. This is the wild, fleeting nature of Burning Man, and I ain’t afraid to admit that I love it.
Why? Because it is the antithesis of—and perhaps the antidote to—a sterile, stuffy, institutionalized mainstream art culture that believes art belongs on white walls, in quiet enclosed spaces with doors that lock, and demands that—once inside—you view art from a safe distance. It wants a sophisticated, elite audience of spectators that fits in a tidy box. It often has to do with money and status and an “us and them” mindset.
While it can feel familiar and safe for many, it’s just not my style to be an outsider. It seems to me that creators and performers today are drawn more and more to collaboration amongst a free and diverse community without walls and strict boundaries. They want to celebrate and enjoy art that has been produced in and created for casual groups, art that is activated by participants who are invited to touch it, get personal with it, find themselves in the art—and thinking outside of the box.
Over the years, the impact of the Burning Man experience has been so profound that a distinct culture has formed around it. Experienced “burners” want it to last longer than a week, and want to share the ethic and ideas with their communities, so they are banding together nationwide and putting on their own localized events, in an attempt to rekindle that magic that is possible when creativity and freedom collide.
The Source Interactive Arts Festival is an attempt to re-create this experience on Maui. Burning Man-inspired, it’s still decidedly island-style, and it celebrates its third annual gathering this weekend.
While researching for this article, I quickly realized that there are so many ideas and contributions that come together for an event of this magnitude that it would be impossible to include them all. To get to the bottom of things, I decided to zero in on one artist—a tall, bright-eyed fellow named Gabe Mott—who has been involved in organizing the festival from the beginning, and who embodies the idea of interactive art. He believes that when people interact with art, they begin to see themselves as artists. This is a core part of the Source philosophy: that everyone has the capacity to be an artist.
When Gabe describes his latest additions to “A Color Box” (an evolving art installation he’s displaying at Source, see sidebar), his eyes widen and tiny beams of light shoot out of them. I’m not completely surprised at the sight of this, since he’s the kind of artist who plays with light and color on the regular. However, when he tells me that for this year’s project he’ll be hiding infrared LED controls into the third eyes of stuffed animals which allows viewers—by way of a reverse-engineered Nintendo Wii System—to control the colors projected inside this box, light shoots out of my own eyeballs. You’re doing what?!
Gabe’s second life-size “immersive color room” project, scheduled to be unveiled at this weekend’s festival, is the culmination of everything he’s been working on and researching for several years. He is a protege of life-long Maui resident and “color guru” Dick Nelson, who is one of the island’s most respected artists and art teachers. Gabe also serves as the curator, or Art Director, for Source, which has him holding several pre-Source artist brainstorm sessions (called “ArtStorms”), and administering an artist grant program that offers seed funds for some of the proposed projects.
With a smile he shares: “My job is to continually say yes to people, to their projects and ideas, to their plans, and then eventually to help artists place their art on site at the event.” All forms of artistic expression are welcome at Source: visual arts, tiki carving, performance art, music, fire, the healing arts, the presentation of new ideas, even culinary arts—all of which are interactive and engage the crowd. “Art really allows a solution,” says Gabe. “We need to go beyond festivity and get engaged.”
According to the Source project’s founder, Ben Holt, the festival is “four days of recess for adults” (children are welcome too—Source is a family-friendly event). Ben is especially proud of the food provided at Source. The entry fee buys you three freshly prepared, healthy meals a day, and the majority of the food served comes from gardens and farms around Maui, including a garden that is set up on Ben’s property specifically to feed Source participants. There is an entire “kitchen crew” that volunteers to prepare the meals, some of whom are surprise local “celebrity chefs.” Everyone eats together, family style.
Ben has had a long history of participating in gatherings of varying shapes and sizes around the globe. As a side note, when I met him he was particularly well known for inventing an interactive game called “Bop,” in which two opponents attempt to knock football helmets off of each other’s heads with super long pieces of PVC piping with stuffed animal heads attached to one end. Unwieldy object in hand, you “bop” your opponent with the teddy bear or the puppy dog, and their helmet eventually falls off. It’s hilarious, quite a workout and actually stopped a real-life knife fight in its tracks at Kalama Park a few years back.
A dozen or so creators have proposed interactive art projects for the Source Festival, which among other noteworthy things is the largest “unjuried art show” on Maui. Festivalgoers in the hundreds are expected to use the four-day event as a canvas for their wildest, most soulful expressions, even if they’ve never seen themselves as artists. In fact, the event Web site reads: “You do not need our permission to include your art.” Ask someone involved in organizing Source and they’ll give you a very inclusive, open view of what “art” actually is, and suddenly the number of art projects grows exponentially.
Modeled closely after Burning Man, Source’s Web site asks Maui residents to “share the same ‘gift economy’ ethos while encouraging radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, transformative experiences through communion with nature and interactive events with other human beings.”
In order to pull this kind of thing off—especially the “gift economy” part—each attendee needs to pay an entry fee (“think of it like paying your dues at the clubhouse,” says Ben Holt). In addition, people are encouraged to give more than just money once they get there. The entire event is run by a team of volunteers (named the “Voluntribe”), many of whom sign up to put in many hours of service before, during or after the event—and they all pay the entree fee. To them, volunteering is a form of participation and is not associated with any material reward, like free tickets or backstage access (as is often the case with other mainstream festivals).
Source is also a “leave no trace” event (not one piece of trash is left behind). The organizers and attendees are staunchly eco-conscious and take care of the property as if it’s their own, even making improvements to the YMCA’s signage, structures, landscape and interiors in coordination with the caretakers of the grounds.
“To me, Source is a giant puzzle,” says Amina Abdussamad, head organizer of VolunTribe. “Each of us is a piece of that puzzle and each of us brings an art to share. It is a place where my art—the art of organizing and gathering people—is appreciated and celebrated. We have no idea what this puzzle will look like in the end and that I think is the point. We each come with our piece and at the end we see what we created. You really can’t be much more interactive than that.”
Source is a real opportunity for freedom of expression, my favorite freedom. It removes boundaries between “performer” and “audience.” There is no “us” and “them.” It’s quite like a model of the perfect world, if you ask me. And I want to go to there.
THE CAST & CREW
SOURCE ARTS ETHOS
“We declare that art is powerful and important. We also believe that everyone is creative and has the capacity to be an artist. The experience at SOURCE is created entirely by the attendees. In other words, no entertainment is “hired,” and yet the festival is filled with paintings, stilt walkers, healers, nature art, interactive sculptures, DJs, VJs, musicians and performance.”
Mark Matthews, Videographer/Editor
As each festivalgoer arrives at the event, they will be asked to watch a light and fun “in-flight video” style orientation film—about three minutes in length—which orients each person with the vibe of the festival. Mark also has created a 20-minute documentary about Source, and will be shooting more video at this year’s event.
Amina Abdussamad, lead organizer
The “VolunTribe” is a group of volunteer teams, each focused on a certain area of the festival. This includes trained medics, builders, clean-up crew, a fire department, a welcoming committee, a team of cooks, folks who set up stages for music and performance, parking attendants, a team of stagehands and theater workers and watchful eyes that help provide the perfect conditions for creativity in an environment that is safe and well-organized.
Writer/Director, “Birth of Tiki”
This is a theatrical art performance fusing ancient Hawaiian mythology with modern-day theatrical and art trends through the use of black-light body painting and costumery. Featured performers include, among others, Brendan Lokahi Sylva (of local band The Troublemakers), Ellen Petersen (of Maui Slam). Rachel has trained more than ten new body painters to help with the show—each character requires approximately six hours of intricate painting. Add to this elaborate, glowing props that give the appearance of objects floating through the air. “Birth of Tiki is my attempt to connect my 25 years of theater experience and my surrealist theater background in Los Angeles and Burning Man and connect it to Hawaiian mythology in a way no one has seen before, ever,” says Rachel. “I feel that black light is a medium of dreams, and it shows people the subconscious in a really beautiful, magical way. I think body painting is like carving the essences of the akua, or gods…combining these together with the theme of mythology is really powerful.”
Mavis hails from Alaska, and this is the third year she is creating art for Source. Her work is called “Cheers, Chalice,” an eight-basket sculpture utilizing locally gathered natural materials such as mulberry, hibiscus, grass and palm. Like past years, the sculpture will have an interactive mission that connects communities that are separated by distance. All are invited to decorate the outside of the basket with natural embellishments, flowers and written sentiments of inspiration. Personal sentiments may be tucked inside, and ultimately the sculpture will burn, releasing all the heartfelt sentiments.
This “out of the box” art project actually is a box that you get inside of. “A Color Box” is a free-standing room ten feet wide and eight-feet high. Using a computer, a projector, a Wii game system and a screen, a person walking into the room will be able to interact with a color grid projected on the screen. By using several stuffed animals with LED lights coming from their third eyes, a person can use the stuffed animal much like a computer mouse to “touch” a color swatch projected onto the box. Interacting with the color swatches teaches the participant about complimentary colors and helps them see color relationships in a new way.
Cudra will present a “life-size” counter-rotating Merkaba. The word “Merkaba” means “chariot of light” in ancient Judaic mysticism. It is the divine light vehicle allegedly used by ascended masters to connect with and reach those in tune with the higher realms. In modern esoteric teachings, it is taught that the Merkaba is an inter-dimensional vehicle consisting of two equally sized, interlocked tetrahedra of light with a common center, where one tetrahedron points up and the other down. According to mystics, this field of energy exists around every living creature. This project allows people—one at a time—to sit inside and experience the moving sacred geometry that exists around them. Says Cudra, “Who knows? Maybe it will be a star gate!”
“Last year, I was approached by local artist Cudra Clover to try to reproduce the effect of a giant water projection screen, made using a peacock tail-shaped spray of water,” says Matthews. “I build water systems on Maui and have the necessary tools and am akamai, so I said ‘yes, let’s do it.’ Water is a beautiful and dazzling medium for projection, a fact realized and then engineered by Scott Ritt of Mirage Waterworks. I researched the idea, and found a smaller flat-screen version [that] I could actually build. I custom-fabricated everything, borrowed a pump and a projector, and I gotta tell you now, it was ‘the coolest art installation at Source’ to quote nearly everyone who saw it. This year I am building two screens. The details are secret, but I guarantee an awesome show by some of the best visual artists on Maui.”
Amanda Wilson, Host
“Off the Grid 3.0” Franklin Symposium
“Franklin is the innovation of information motivation,” explains Amanda. “In other words, inspiration.” Those involved in “the Franklin” (named for noted brainstormer Benjamin Franklin) meet several times a year, simultaneously recognizing the potential of sharing information, projects and people who turn them on, get them excited, and, well, inspired. Each “lecturer” presents their research or specialized experiences with the group while orbiting around a central idea. Generally, everyone invited has created a presentation and shares it with the others. It’s basically a grown-up show and tell, and there’s going to be a big one at Source this year.
Bryan Axtell, fire performer
Fire Dance Performances and Installations
Source is a magnet for performers, particularly those who play with fire. There’s something so transformational about fire, you can’t help but be moved. Bryan is one of the leaders of Merkabah Fire Productions, a Maui-based fire performance troupe that plays a pivotal role in several Source performances. This year, Bryan will be coordinating fire safety at Source for all things ablaze: three major choreographed “fire shows,” art installations that incorporate open flame, a “fire garden,” the burning of “Logo Fuego” (a life-size metal fire sculpture of the Source logo), the burning of Mavis’s “Cheers Chalice,” and the burning of a beautiful Temple at the end of the event. There are even flamethrowers involved!