Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Island of Metaphors

By locating the festival on an island, visitors are forced to take a little journey to get there--

opening the visitor to metaphor and really enhancing the cultural experience there.

I like the Figment Festival! It sort of brings some of the best things about Burning Man to New York, and some of the annoying things as well. Let’s be real though: a trip to Governor’s Island is no substitute for a week on the playa. Still, it’s a great event and I would like to get involved next year.

Like Burning Man, there are alot of artists just "putting it out there" without really worrying about the commercial implications. There are many artists who just wheeled their huge sculptures out into a big feild and hung out with it. The artist are right there and I had many, many conversations with them. The overarching commercialism of gallery art sucks alot of the joy out of a trip to Chelsea and this was quite different and refreshing.

The Figment folks have done well by borrowing some of Burning Man’s non-commercial agenda, though one can still easily find a hotdog or soda for sale. On reflection it's kind of sad that the hotdog sellers are allowed to make a living but the artists have to donate everything. Maybe the hot dogs should be donated and the art sold?

Besides all the free-placed art, there are two curated group shows of sculpture and installations located inside buildings and the quality of those shows was (is) outstanding. Unlike the rest of the event, these two shows remain on view through the summer. Information on them can be found here and here. There was alot of music, theatre, dance, people in costume, and general wackiness.

My only complaint was this: Because the event is spread over a vast area, and the only way to have a physical map/schedule is to download one from their web site (it doesn’t print well at all) and they don't offer them on site. The only real practical ways to find things are either by being one of the organizers (and here, Burning Man’s annoying elitism rears it’s bespectacled face) or by wandering around, happening onto things and not caring too much about what you might be missing. The greeters had one map among them all and they didn’t really have much to offer besides pointing everyone in the general direction of the mini-golf. Although I love vibe-surfing more than most, there were times during the visit when it would have been nice to know where I was, what’s out there and when. The art-trance approach works better on the playa than in it does in wired New York.

I think the whole looming presense of Burning Man is a sort of liability. All of the organizers and participants that I spoke to also do Burning Man and view I got the vibe that they view this event (consciously or not) as a little (and lesser) sister to the Nevada event. That approach will prevent the Figment from reaching it's potential for two important reasons. First it builds an inferiority complex into the very grain of the event's existence. Secondly, it tends to ape the big sister in ways that are not always appropriate. Burning Man, though wonderful, is not the perfect consummation of anything and what works on the playa's very particular environment may not be best in New York Harbor.

On the whole though, it was a really great experience and I’m very glad I went. I look forward to next year!

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