No spectators at Outer Roominations | Art Beat
Outer Roominations, Humboldt’s first time and site-sensitive outdoor art festival, took place on a Memorial Day that started out cool and shadowless. By mid-morning Table Bluff remained covered in shades of gray and green, the foliage draped in dewdrops. On a hillside meadow, the people who had made the journey wandered in pairs and in small groups. Aside from the breeze and the ocean, the loudest sound within earshot was the hummingbirds piccolo rasp.
Many art installations have stayed with me, such as Dorian Daneau’s placement of her creepy, worm-like little trolls among the alder branches; Bernadette Vielbig’s drawings in the landscape, which transformed a green glade into a boat on an undulating pond. Laura Corsiglia’s vellum paintings appeared ghostly in the shallow clearing where they were suspended, translucent and covered in delicate folds, with a flowing stream and an old concrete trough like a makeshift bridge, a remnant of the earlier agricultural history of Earth. Nancy Tobin embellished a stand of trees with a luau fringe and hung a collage of fabric so it could float an awning on the breeze, freed from a frame.
Participation produced works of art to varying degrees. Mango Krueger’s stenciled banner announced the availability of “Universe Answers”, urging viewers to “close their eyes / ask for a ??? / draw cards / keep your favorites.” A mirror sphere positioned by Blake Reagan presented a fish-eye distortion of the surrounding landscape, with the viewer in the center. At the edge of Table Bluff, the golden-rimmed “cloud viewing pyramids” made by Reagan with the support of Andrew Goff have become drop-off points to assess the vastness of the cloudy sky.
Some lingering sights and sounds were more about the synergistic moments generated by the event itself. On a bluff overlooking the ocean, a group of Indigenous participants beat drums and burnt sage. A handful of listeners rested on hay bales as a didgeridoo soloist on the porch blew out intricate, sustained patterns. The resident goats reacted with comic astonishment to the soap bubbles drifting over their enclosure. Collaborators came together on all fours to develop cyanotypes, jostling each other to complete a composition of objects glued inside the three- to five-minute window of this solar-powered photo process.
Flashing back to the 1960s, when artists around the world associated with postmodern movements such as Fluxus, Gutai, Arte Povera and Neo-Concretism began to celebrate the blurred lines separating art from life. At the start of the 21st century, the participatory approach to artistic creation known as relational art or social praxis was built on these foundations, importing Internet concepts from the 1990s and early years: conviviality, interactivity , crowdsourcing and DIY approaches. Many art festivals have since professed the participatory ideal of ‘no spectators’, but Exterior rooms delivered.
The difference between spectators and artists, works of art and finished works, was sometimes fluid and difficult to discern. The exhibition opened on Friday but the creative process was still underway on Saturday morning. Anyone walking the forest trails can find an artist carrying a floating armful of tulle, pruning branches, or hammering rebar to shore up a section of trail. The cheerful hospitality of the festival organizers extended to an impromptu shuttle service on a lawn mower.
When Goff, a Lost Coast Outpost reporter who hosted and helped organize the festival, named Burning Man as an influence, it made sense. “I think we’ve all been to Burning Man to some extent, so there’s a bit of that DNA in there,” he said. “We were just trying to find something to match the spirit of this land.”
For one week each year, Burning Man brings together a temporary nomadic community of over 70,000 people in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Since the inaugural event in 1986, people have gathered on the playa every year to create experimental art installations – including, famously, ritually burnt large-scale structures. As a supposedly radical experiment in short-term community life, it has also been a laboratory where the right to individual expression is balanced with responsibility to the community. Co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the 10 Burning Man Principles in 2004: Radical Inclusion, Giving, De-commodification, Radical Autonomy, Radical Self-Expression, Community Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy.
No spectators, the title of a 2018 exhibition on the art of Burning Man curated by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, alludes to radical participation and radical inclusiveness. In the words of curator Nora Atkinson, “You are encouraged to participate fully. It’s about being there, being fully present and not just observing… which means there are no strangers. Everyone is part of the experience. “
Goff explained that he and his fellow organizers, artist Blake Reagan and dancer, choreographer and studio owner (as well as Eureka City Council member) Leslie Castellano of Synapsis, had planned the event for more than a year in advance, “not knowing where the world was going to be with COVID-19.” Organizers accepted a degree of risk in part because “we were going to have it outside and people were spaced out” As they prepared, Goff said, “We were pretty confident that we could create an experience that was both safe and magical.”
“This property is something my grandparents bought when I was born,” he continued. “When my grandmother passed away in 2013, no one else in the family really wanted to live here. I was happy to accept it because it is a beautiful field. And that section down the hill, where the trails are, has been overrun my whole life.
“Three years ago, I wanted to go explore the lay of the land,” says Goff, who has marked trails on the property. “And especially over the last year, I kind of pushed it over the top and said, ‘Well, I have nothing to do, so let’s do something weird… Leslie ( Castellano) had been here, and we had hiked the trails. We had a few conversations that gave us a glimpse of something we could do. She was really encouraging and helpful in saying that this weird thing I had halfway reflected in my brain was, in fact, possible. “
Goff says he wanted to keep the landscape a bit ‘wild’, noting, “We didn’t need a lot of infrastructure; the ground is already interesting. I thought, “Let’s see what shape these spaces take naturally. It was fascinating … I did not have a roadmap. I thought a lot there. How to renegotiate our relationship with the land?
Asked about the potential for future renewals, Goff was optimistic. “I’m happier than I probably thought. Everyone was excited about the potential. I looked around and was happy with what we had done, but at the same time I was like, ‘Dude , there should be three times as much art here. We need more. ‘”
Gabrielle Gopinath (she) is a writer, art critic and curator based in Arcata. Follow her on Instagram at @gabriellegopinath.