by Janette Chien
Force Field will bring large-scale art installations to an unused venue in Philadelphia, including audio, video, live performance, and sculpture. Force Field is a Trust project of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, a charitable organization supporting diverse cultural practices in the Philadelphia region. The event will be held June 21 and 22, 2014.
I met with founders Joe Bartram and Tim Eads to learn more about this project.
Janette Chien: How did the idea for Force Field come about?
Joe Bartram: I should begin with our building partners at Makesh/ft, the occupants of the Jomar facility in Kensington, where Force Field will be held. I moved to Philadelphia in late April and started working at the Clay Studio. A few months later I discovered the Makesh/ft building through a few friends and became interested in the space. This was around the time I met Tim Eads. Tim and I began talking about doing a project in that space. It started off with an idea. Since then, it has grown into this huge thing.
Tim Eads: At the time I had been talking to CultureWorks about one of my own projects. When Joe and I were looking into the space, Makesh/ft said we could use a large portion of it, and it fell into place. We thought this would a good fit for CultureWorks. I had done a project with Data Garden at Bartram’s Garden in 2012 (The Switched-On Garden 002), and they were interested in getting involved. And as Joe said, the idea evolved into something very big after that.
JC: Could you describe the vision behind the project? And how both of you transitioned from being practicing artists to taking on more curatorial roles?
JB: It’s having a space available for emerging and professional artists to exhibit in a non-traditional environment. I know there are some opportunities like this in Philadelphia, but I can’t recall something of this scale happening in the city. The vision is to have the project bestowed onto the people, because they are the ones making it happen by exhibiting their work. Tim and I are facilitating that. The people are showing for the people. We want to get everyone together and have this utopian event.
TE: In Philadelphia there’s often a separation between video artists, performers, visual artists, and musicians. For instance, the Fringe Arts Festival is largely dance and performance-based. Hidden City [installation and sculpture] does dive into a little music. There are Bowerbird and Data Garden, which combine audio and electronic sound with sculpture. I thought, why are all these separate situations? We have this facility. Let’s bring them all into one place. Many people interested in the project have come out of the woodwork. A company that does aerial acrobatics contacted us, as have traditional sculptors. Our challenge is figuring out how those work together in a space.
JC: Do you see groups collaborating in this space?
TE: Curatorially yes, but as far as getting one group to collaborate with another, not so much. It might evolve into that. I have some friends who applied—one who makes sound work and the other who does knitting and crocheting—and they’ve been talking about collaborating. This project allows them to work together. These kinds of ideas can happen in galleries and other locations, but what makes this unique is that it’s all happening in one location. It starts to become like a circus, in a good way.
JC: What kind of logistics are there for booking a huge building like the Jomar facility?
TE: We’re looking at about 150,000 square feet of space, plus the exterior space and the boiler room. We definitely need to give credit to our partners at Makesh/ft. It was hugely generous of them and we could not have asked for more. They have invested a lot into the Kensington community and into this project.
JC: Do you see this as a sustainable project that will continue after the major event? And how will this event engage the local community of Kensington throughout the process?
TE: We’ve kicked around the idea of continuing on a smaller scale throughout the year, doing smaller exhibitions. There is something great about a one-time event. I think it has some potential that long-term projects don’t have. There are certainly negatives, too. I don’t want to go into a neighborhood, occupy it for two days, and leave. Several of our artists will be doing social and community-based projects. We are also reaching out to community organizations that have knowledge of the neighborhood to create an educational component leading up to the event. In addition, we are giving out free tickets to people within a certain radius.
I think taking these events to communities like Kensington has really great potential. If the community is invested in reclaiming forgotten spaces in their neighborhoods, they can be transformed in a positive way. Despite the often-bleak picture of Kensington, there are many strengths within this community. There are historical, community-based, and cultural preservation groups working to improve neighborhood conditions by calling attention to the inherent potential of abandoned industrial space. We hope to tap into that and join the community in its efforts.
JC: Can you talk a little bit about how you envision the Jomar facility to be organized for this event?
JB: I see there being loud and quiet spaces. Louder spaces will be designed for performance, video, sound and installation; work that interacts with an audience on a physical level. Then there would be quiet spaces for more traditional sculpture, which would allow for the audience to interact with the work on a more intimate level. I imagine there will be performances where the audience is encouraged to participate, lecture style performances with Q&A, and sound works that reach you on different sensory levels.
JC: It seems like you are really interested in the work being rooted in a love for Philadelphia.
TE: What I love about Philly is a direct, analogous comparison to this project. Philly is known for being this angry, gritty blue-collar city; the joke of the town is that the motto is “the city of brotherly shove.” You’ve got places like Pat’s and Geno’s in the traditionally Italian neighborhood, and you also have the best museums and galleries nationwide, the whole gamut. The same goes for the artists. We’re trying to present the full range of Philly: the low brow and the high brow, with no judgment, all on the same level.
JC: Ultimately, how does this project distinguish itself from other artistic endeavors engaging the city? You’ve mentioned the scale, the interdisciplinary collaboration in one location, removing the pretension…
JB: Open call, total freedom. Here’s the space, you have your idea, now submit. It’s empowering. It’s like everything from nothing. This is a great cultural happening. And if it does sustain itself, it will be a huge thing that came just from a conversation. The more of these sorts of events there are, the better the city is, and the better the world is.
Janette Chien is a visual artist and writer from Hong Kong who lives in Philadelphia. She is a contributing writer for Title-Magazine and Printeresting and has exhibited work in Somerville, MA, Boston, MA, and Salisbury, MD.