There’s always more to a landscape than meets the eye. The splendor of a snow-capped peak is inescapable—but what of the things we cannot see, like the hidden networks of mycelium under the soil? Or the cultural meanings we imbue, if only inadvertently, through our interaction with a place, in a moment in time?
These questions underlie new commissions from Nicole Banowetz, Edina Tokodi, and Thomas Dambo, which will animate local landscapes from serene forest hideaways to sunny plazas and streets at the 4th annual Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA), taking place August 10-19, 2018.
Denver-based artist Nicole Banowetz will exhibit her large-scale, inflatable sculptures—which are inspired by hidden aspects of the natural world like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and rotifers—in both town and forest. She will create two public artworks for BIFA—one on a wooded trail, the other on the façade of Old Masonic Hall in downtown Breckenridge.
The trail work will be “playful and whimsical,” she said, “based off the idea of plant communication systems, and how plants have this complex network of communications that is invisible to humans.” Rather than a scientific replica, the sculpture will be “a sort of mythological representation of what that would look like,” inspired by imagery of plant rhizomes. The artist designs and sews the forms in durable, plastic-coated nylon on her sewing machine. Once inflated, they will reach heights of 10 feet and extend 15 feet or more across the forest floor.
“There’s so much happening in the world of plants and nature for us to understand,” said Banowetz, who hopes to encourage environmentalism by sparking realizations about nature. “Sometimes you have people who shut down when you try to talk about environmental or charged issues,” she said. “Inflatable art is so playful, you are open to it in a way you aren’t always with contemporary art.”
While the forest piece is intentionally playful, her Old Masonic Hall piece—with root-like forms “coming out of windows and dripping down the façade”—illustrates nature’s strength and power. It takes its inspiration from Anping Tree House in Taiwan, where a banyan tree has grown through and overtaken an old house. “When I saw this house, I was overwhelmed by the power in nature,” she said. “A human building seemed very unimportant when consumed by a tree.” Banowetz will create the facade piece while in residence at the Breckenridge Arts District July 9 to August 22.
It is likely to have an indelible effect, transforming that public space even after the work comes down—a phenomenon Banowetz observed with the annual display of light sculptures at the Amsterdam Light Festival. “The city is filling with the history of these artworks,” she said. “People are very affected by that. It can’t help but seep into their memory of that space.”
New York-based artist Edina Tokodi will exhibit a set of works within the interior space of Gallery@OMH as well as forested trails around Breckenridge. Tokodi, who is known for animating degraded urban cityscapes with “graffiti” made from moss, works in natural materials like grasses, soil, and living plants, dissolving barriers between natural and built environments.
Although some have referred to her work as “graffiti,” the Hungarian-born artist never identified as part of the street arts movement. “Growing up I always had a garden,” she said. “I always had a connection with plants. When I moved to the big city, I started to feel that something was missing.” The sentiment led her to create artworks with plants—and then, she explained, “I put these works out to the street so people can get closer to nature.”
Tokodi’s indoor exhibition of mixed media landscapes—which use everything from soil to concrete to handmade paper and ink—are an evolution of a concept inspired by Japanese Zen gardens. “My idea was to create some sort of prefab meditation garden to have at home or indoors,” said Tokodi, who will offer an artist talk on her landscapes August 11. She will also create a large, temporary installation made to resemble a rug but formed entirely from soil and salt. “I really like the temporary aspect of these works,” she said of her rug series, each of which is tailor-made for a given location and time.
In the forest, Tokodi will create a faceless yeti with a palette of pre-grown grass, in which passersby can replace the missing face with their own. “With the natural materials, it’s going to blend into the background, so you have to find it first,” said Nicole Dial-Kay, director of exhibitions and special projects for Breckenridge Creative Arts, which puts on BIFA. “It’s very participatory, and very approachable,” she said. “For me, it’s like demystifying a mystery in a fun way.”
The yeti fits well into the 2018 festival’s exploration of myths, legends, traditions, and rituals—those elements that have, throughout history, transformed public spaces worldwide into a tapestry of cultural landscapes rich with meaning.
If there’s any artist whose work will inspire new legends in the forests around Breckenridge, however, it is Thomas Dambo and his troll—a friendly, 15-18-foot behemoth hewn of repurposed wood scraps and perched on a pinnacle quietly stacking stones. “People can help to stack smaller stones on top and around it,” said Dambo, who is based in Denmark. “I hope it will pull people on a hike—whether to go up to see the sculpture, or to help stack stones.”
The Breckenridge troll is part of a larger, multi-chapter story Dambo is creating, which starts with trolls “living in the world since the sun rose for the first time…in harmony with nature,” he said, before human beings come to earth and begin messing it up. His trolls, perched around the globe, tell the story as it unfolds—after early encounters with humans, a series of angry trolls “eat people and throw rocks,” including one in Chicago who casts stones at passing cars. Eventually, however, they are going to be friends with people once more, he explained.
The idea has its origins in Scandinavian folk stories, though Dambo’s trolls are all his own. The Breckenridge giant “is one of the trolls that hasn’t had too much contact with people,” he said. “It’s enjoying the mountains and sitting and having a good time, playing and making rocks there.”
Dambo creates his sculptures with recycled materials like old fences and pallets so that “people will remember trash as something positive, that has value,” he said. “If we keep on treating the world like we are right now, we are just going to fill the world with trash. When you are throwing out your trash, think, ‘Who could this be a treasure for?,’ then give it to those people.”
The Breckenridge troll is designed to outlive the festival for years, but not forever. “The wood will disappear, but the stones will still be there,” said Dambo. “In this way it can create some kind of a legend in the area. Maybe 50 years down the road kids will ask their grandfather, ‘How did those rocks get here?’ and he will say, ‘A giant came from Denmark and stacked the stones, and the giant left but the stones are still here.’”
Acrobats, shadow puppets, Rites of Holi + more
BIFA 2018 welcomes a full slate of performers and exhibiting artists in addition to the regional, national, and global artists spotlighted above. New in 2018 is the Australian acrobat troupe, Gravity & Other Myths, who will put on their contemporary circus performance, “A Simple Space,” August 17-19 at the Riverwalk Center, in addition to a free children’s circus workshop August 14, and trailside previews August 14-16. The Riverwalk Center will also host the Colorado premiere of Manual Cinema’s “Lula del Ray,” a coming-of-age story told with shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music, on August 16.
As part of their annual partnership with BIFA, Breckenridge Music Festival presents “Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi,” a collaboration between the late filmmaker Prashant Bhargava and composer-pianist Vijay Iyer with footage from Hindu Holi festivities and live chamber ensemble, followed that evening by a Vijay Iyer Trio performance. In addition, the BMF and Meta Yoga present a tetralogy of works by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottír, accompanied by interactive light and sound, on August 11. Steven Schick conducts both evenings.
Another new event, Concrete Jams: Sk8 + Jazz, will take place at the Breckenridge Recreation Center skate park August 11-12, featuring improvisational skateboarding by professional skaters Bucky Lasek, Jordyn Barratt, and X Games legend Andy Macdonald to a blend of jazz, funk, and hip-hop by Denver’s The Other Black, followed by a community skate.
The popular Trail Mix program expands to include a new vocal sound sculpture series. Chirp!, by members of Chimney Choir; and Acoustic Flow returns to the banks of the Blue River with free outdoor classes in yoga, meditation, and healing arts accompanied by live music. On August 15, Banowetz and Smith join Tony Overlock of Breckenridge Open Space and Trails to discuss what it takes to put on the BIFA Trail Mix series.
There will be a performance by Andrew Bird on August 12; a roll-in movie night called Kick Push on the Riverwalk Center lawn August 14; and a variety of artist talks, workshops, and kids’ activities offered in partnership with local organizations. Many of the interactive experiences at this year’s festival are made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Throughout all of our festivals and exhibitions, we seek a balance between exposing our audiences to the absolute best in the national and international art worlds, and showcasing the amazing artwork happening here in Breckenridge and Colorado,” Dial-Kay said. “The legends created at the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts will continue long after the festival, to become part of the fabric of Breckenridge.”
Breckenridge International Festival of Arts // breckcreate.org/bifa
Nicole Banowetz // nicolebanowetz.com
Edina Tokodi // mosstika.com
Thomas Dambo // thomasdambo.com
Andrew Bird // andrewbird.net
Manual Cinema // manualcinema.com
Gravity & Other Myths // gravityandothermyths.com.au
Thomas Dambo, Edina Tokodi and Nicole Banowetz photos courtesy of the artists; Gravity & Other Myths photo by Andy Phillipson; Manual Cinema photo by Maren Celest.