Visualizing Eaux Claires 2016: The festival’s slate of art installations goes big & bold
Talking with Michael Brown, the creative director of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, just a handful of weeks before the homegrown fest opens the gates for its second year, there’s this idea that keeps coming up: This is a festival that’s still trying to be understood.
With acts like The National, Sufjan Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Spoon along for the ride, last year’s inaugural musical successes were lauded pretty heavily, but what truly made this festival unique was that second word in the masthead: Arts.
“These projects are meant to put you in the mindset that you’re a part of this and you’re participating ... It’s everybody coming together and making something.” – Michael Brown, creative director, Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival
HOTTEA’s rainbow-colored yarn streams, the “Big Eaux” sign lit up with custom projection-mapping, the domes with all kinds of noisy and strange experiments going on inside, the quirky staging of performance piece “Forever Love,” confessing your sins to Astronautalis, and parades marching through the grounds like clockwork all would’ve made for one heck of a weekend even if the indie rock brass didn’t show up.
This year’s musical lineup, which includes Bon Iver, Erykah Badu, James Blake, Beach House, Bruce Hornsby, and a huge Grateful Dead tribute, has been out there for a while now. But when you hear about some of the experiential art installations and performances, it really starts to become real as you envision yourself there taking in the Eaux Claires experience once again.
People who are only thinking about what bands they’re going to see are missing a really substantial chunk of what this festival is about. And with an art program of 26 different installations and performances – almost double last year’s number – the experience of being there is taking hold as one of the festival’s most exciting features.
“The goal isn’t necessarily for the festival to be a showcase of art. It’s to break down the barrier of people expecting to just see music on stages,” Brown said frankly. “It’s about how different genres of art can come together and blur the lines between each other. And hopefully it becomes a whole big mash of everything. That’s kind of what this festival is.”
This year’s slate of art is keenly ambitious, invites an array of collaboration, gets attendees involved, and goes bigger and bolder than ever.
It won’t get much bigger than “Baroque,” an enormous, ornate cuboid structure of metal mesh by Italian sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi. It’s essentially a massive baroque organ in the center of the grounds where the likes of world-renowned organist James McVinnie and Griffin McMahon will periodically produce sweet tones throughout the weekend. It’s a sharp and lovely redefinition of musical performance and fine art.
Along the banks of the Chippewa River, Portugal-based artist collective THNDRPPL (which includes Eau Claire native Trever Hagen) will lay down “RIVERPODS,” a series of installations that gives the nuances of the Chippewa’s flow a visual representation with underwater recordings and more. And after nightfall, the pods illuminate with glimmering reactive light.
What was a VIP area last year will be transformed into a quieter public space that acts as a reprieve from festival overload. It’s a wide area where people can rest and chill. A smaller stage will be set up for the lineup’s more ambient/classical performances by “Bonnie” Prince Billy, eighth blackbird, and Bryce Dessner, all vibed out by a floral installation called “Momentary Passing” by Riley Messina.
Artists Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels and VNESSWOLFCHILD will construct a small temple out in the woods off the beaten path for festivalgoers to explore, while Menomonie’s Oxbow Designs developed “Oxbeaux,” a wooded stage that uses traditional Asian design and a stone plinth foundation. S. Carey and others will perform on the Oxbeaux stage during the festival.
An interactive installation called “The Musical Fence” is a big structure with tuned pipes you can run your hands down or create your own music with. “The ChippewaLL,” similarly, will allow fest-goers to make music together with a chiptune-voiced musical wall with nodes that detect hand movements to trigger different notes. Eau Claire’s Dwarfcraft Devices will create what’s called the “Tripolith,” an audio-visual instrument that is controlled by three separate panels where you can twist knobs and tweak frequencies while screens react to the sounds nearby.
There will also be a handful of experimental video artists with work on screens, and a screening of Silently Steal Away, a documentary directed by former local filmmaker Andrew Swant about Jack Raymond, the legendary and mysterious Chippewa Valley radio host and his long-running, little changing radio show. Meanwhile, the festival has added some literary elements with renowned writers and speakers, some of whom will give 60-second private readings to one person at a time.
This year, the festival sent out an open call for artists from around the globe to submit their work for consideration. What started as one such submission turned into a full-on collaboration between Eaux Claires and Minnesota artist and teacher Gregory Euclide (who did the artwork for Bon Iver’s second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver). On his breaks, Euclide would quickly draw gorgeous abstract landscapes on the whiteboard in his classroom, and when students came in he would make one of them erase the beautiful work to show them that you can create in any confines and be OK with destruction. At the festival, Euclide will do massive dry-erase works on a huge cylinder, and each person that enters the festival will be given an eraser to “destroy” a small section of it, illustrating the fleeting nature of the weekend. Euclide will also have a few ornate dioramas buried underground across the grounds, only visible via porthole to those who stumble upon them.
See what I mean? This is the stuff that takes your run-of-the-mill, bands-on-stages music festival presumptions and rockets them into the stratosphere. For Brown, the name of the game is to be unique, take risks, and invite attendees into this art-filled, two-day, creative shared experience of weirdness.
“Art should be an instrument for you to expand your mind and approach things from a different perspective,” Brown said. “When you’re in a situation where there’s a band up on stage and an audience out front, you can lose that sense of daring and that sense of exploration. These projects are meant to put you in the mindset that you’re a part of this and you’re participating. It’s also just the feeling that there’s creation happening around you. It’s everybody coming together and making something.”
The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is Aug. 12 and 13 at the festival grounds south of Eau Claire. For tickets and more information, including a full slate of musicians and artists, visit www.eauxclaires.com.