Knoxville Artists Mix Form, Function at Bonnaroo

The Knoxville Museum of Art in conjunction with local artists developed ideas for drawing concertgoers to central art locations.

Pod people: The Birdhouse collective will host its DIY souvenir station inside a hand-made bamboo fortress.

Pod people: The Birdhouse collective will host its DIY souvenir station inside a hand-made bamboo fortress.

Pod people: The Birdhouse collective will host its DIY souvenir station inside a hand-made bamboo fortress.

Pod people: The Birdhouse collective will host its DIY souvenir station inside a hand-made bamboo fortress.

The challenge was simple yet daunting: how do you create centralized community centers throughout the sprawling Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival campground that are both inviting and useful? Where would you go if you needed medical attention or if you just wanted to hang out in the shade? How do you make it interactive yet informative?

AC Entertainment turned to the Knoxville Museum of Art to help develop ideas for drawing concertgoers to these central locations. KMA’s Chris Molinski connected with several Knoxville artists to work on proposals for these areas, or pods, that will serve as hubs for everything from recycling to lost-and-found centers. The results are unorthodox, visionary, and collaborative site-specific plans that will unfold in interesting ways.

It’s not surprising that artist Sarah Shebaro chose to use old audio and video cassette tape as her chief material; her body of work often focuses on the seamless melding of art and music. She and her team collected mounds of tape that will help form a temporary “disco shelter” from the sun and heat. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring their own tapes to use in the structure, which is expected to reach 20 feet high. Shebaro will also use sounds throughout her pod to create a full-on multimedia experience.

Artist Jacob Stanley is no stranger to the perils of public art. A recent site-specific environmental work in Maryville was vandalized after Stanley worked on it for four days. But at Bonnaroo, Stanley’s two pods will require participation to be successful. His analog hub pod serves as a makeshift cave full of chalkboards upon which everyone is encouraged to write messages, while his tensile tent reacts to tension. Stanley will install an intricate set of pulleys to the vast fabric panels that will allow the tent to change form at the participant’s will.

True to its community spirit and DIY approach, Knoxville’s Birdhouse collective, led by printmaker Katie Ries, will have an on-site sewing station for part of its project. Housed in a homemade and hand-harvested bamboo fortress, the Birdhouse will be trading Bonnaroo attendees’ old fabric scraps and clothing for hand-printed satin patches. The scraps collected will be used in assembling a cloth banner that will serve as a document of the festival’s attendees. I have a feeling the Birdhouse will have one of the most highly utilized pods; who wouldn’t want an instant hand-made souvenir?

Husband and wife team Jason Brown and Elizabeth Scofield looked to nature for inspiration for their shade-garden pod. Large-scale nylon grasses and colorful flower forms will result in an Alice in Wonderland-like garden that responds to natural elements. The 16-foot blades of grass can even be grouped together to develop a private area. Much like a Jeff Koons sculpture, Brown and Scofield’s pods, sure to be seen from across the festival grounds, rely on scale to make an impact.

It’s no secret that thousands of festival attendees will generate tons of recyclable waste while on the grounds, and artist and architect Matt Hall addresses this concern in his DIS_ASSEMBLY LINE. Hall will use everyday trash as a source material for building a structure that will obstruct and alter the Bonnaroo experience. His team will also help reconfigure waste materials into seating or other forms. Hall’s pod will force viewers to rethink their consumption and waste, a disturbing counterpoint to the festival’s overall carefree tone. Depending on how much material is collected and how it is used, Hall could potentially end up with a McMansion-sized structure made entirely of plastic and glass.

I’m certain that each artist is relying on the help of many friends and colleagues to realize his or her elaborate plans. But the effort and time will pay off with some provocative results and heightened exposure for some of Knoxville’s most visionary artists. If all goes as planned, this will be additional proof that amazing things happen when we turn to art for solutions.

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Comments » 1

PodPerson writes:

The Pod Project is actually an initiative five years in the making though this is the first year it has been anticipated with any fanfare. Introducing interactive sculpture into the no man's land of vast and otherwise overlooked campsites was, indeed, a visionary approach to making the spirit of music and arts ubiquitous throughout the festival. Bonnaroo was the perfect environment to experiment with an art focused more on the behavior of its viewers than on its aesthetic appearance exclusively. Making the vision a reality has been a slowly evolving process of trial and error whose history has been sadly ignored.

The original "Pod People" was a group of about 30 students and young artists recruited by Sculptor John Bisbee to contribute on a volunteer basis. Pods were constructed from hay, yarn, fabric, bottles and cans and other recycled waste. A message-board pod was successful in years past as it most likely will be this year. The Yarn Pod, which will not reappear at 2009's festival was a prominent success among festival goers. Photographs are available on the website of contributor, Ian Trask:

The original pod people were jettisoned from the festival production this year over a fiscal dispute: a disappointing outcome for those of us who were participating in the project entirely out of love for the experience, as I'm sure this year's artists are as well. As a result, the 2009 pod projects, whatever their triumphs or tribulations, are proceeding without any familiarity with four years of work to make the Bonnaroo campsites a creatively enriching environment. Considering the pod project was founded on the principle of collaboration and cooperation between artists and festival goers, it is both a shame and an organizational failure that in its fifth year, Bonnaroo's pod art will be built without any collaboration between this years artists and those from years past.

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