“I am an omnivore when it comes to art,” says Eve Biddle—and she proves it. The Wassaic Project, which she co-founded, offers a free weekend festival of dance, film, music, and visual art from August 3 to 5—inside a seven-story grain elevator!
“Return to Rattlesnake Mountain” is the title of the art show, which includes painting, video, sculpture, and drawings, plus interactive work like Man Bartlett’s “#RunOfTheMill,” which plans to create an “invented history” of the festival while it occurs. Each year, the Wassaic Project features at least two guest-curated shows. “Clean Up,” selected by Anne Huntington, includes Hope Soap, a sculpture of the word “hope” in large white letters, leaning against two contiguous walls by Nic Rad and Adam Wissing. An outdoor installation, with sculpture, video, and interactive art, will be unveiled at the summer festival. Over 100 visual artists in all will participate, including more than 50 former artists-in-residence at Wassaic. Twenty-five hundred visitors attended the festival last year.
The walls of Maxon Mills (the former grain elevator) are exposed wood, not the blank whiteness of a typical gallery, which means a white object is highly visible, like Ghost by Kelly Goff, a cone-shaped papier-mâché tent whose apex appears to have been eaten by moths. The mill—which once manufactured animal feed—has room for extremely large work, but the gallery spaces also allow small pieces to be shown. The porch of Maxon Mills is the stage for six dance performances, including one by the sinuous Maré Hieronimus. Nearby, Luther Barn, once an auction house, now hosts the film festival, which offers selections of contemporary shorts.
“We’re trying to catch bands on their way up,” says music director Scott Anderson. One of last year’s performers, Elle King, was just named to Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List.” This year’s future stars may include Falu, a fluent Indian singer who performed at a state dinner for President Obama, and Victoire, a Brooklyn-based female quintet which plays triumphant opera-techno. At night, the music is performed in a natural grassy amphitheater centered on the Luther Barn. The backdrop of the stage is the barn’s classic slate roof, installed in 1875.
All the arts reflect each other. Dancers “draw” shapes with their legs. Films are composed of thousands of sequential photographs. Musicians playing their instruments perform minute dances. At a festival like Wassaic’s, one can see the hidden connections between artforms.
Eve Biddle and Bowie Barnett-Zunino met at Williams College in 2000 and began collaborating on art. In 2005, Bowie’s father bought the Maxon Mills building, which had been condemned, and began restoring it. After the work was finished, Bowie and Eve suggested a music and art fair. Tony Zunino agreed, and the first Wassaic Festival took place in 2008 for one weekend. The next year, the art exhibit was extended for the entire summer. In 2010, a residency program was added for artists, writers, and musicians. The history of the Wassaic Project has overlapped with the recession, which forced young artists to jettison their dreams of instant glory. Most of the money for unknown contemporary art dried up. Installation artists began using cheaper materials, and the need for community was greater than ever.
“Because our buildings are spread out through the town, the town really plays host to the festival,” observes Biddle. “To us, our community is like gold.” The food at the festival is all local, sourced within 25 miles.
The Wassaic Project Summer Festival is free, and will take place August 3-5 at Maxon Mills in Wassaic. Camping is available on-site. (347) 815-0783; Wassaicproject.org