Memories of last fall's ARTELPHX installations, from a room filled with suspended paper fish to a soft screen of mouths that made sounds when people poked it, still linger. It might be hard to top the event we dubbed last year's best art festival, but event director Tara Sharpe is hustling hard to make it happen during this year's event at The Clarendon Hotel, which takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16.
Sharpe has been busy herding 29 artists (she counts collaborators as a single artist), helping them bring ideas submitted in ARTELPHX proposals to full realization inside spaces that can present some pretty significant challenges. What looks good on paper is sometimes hard to recreate in the real world, she says.
Consider the case of all those hotel rooms filled with dangling objects. Artist aren't allowed to pin their creations to hotel ceilings and such, so installations that seem magically suspended are sometimes attached to structures they've created as skeletons for their work. Sharpe notes that installations like Sondra Carr's McMuses Instant Inspiration, which consists of an undulating maze of colored lights, typically require that an armature be built ahead of time.
Sharpe told us Daniel Funkhouser would start installing his ARTELPHX space, where he's creating a work that allows people to move through the space while conjuring memories of childhood experiences with treehouses and impromptu living room forts, on Sunday, May 10. Many artists start the Monday or Tuesday before the event launch, but some get less of a jump on things.
Although two ARTELPHX events were held in 2014, Sharpe now expects to present just one ARTEL event in Phoenix each year. This is the fourth time around (the first was held during the fall of 2013), and she's presenting 29 works of visual and/or performance art scattered throughout various hotel locations. About two-thirds happen in hotel rooms — most on the second or third floor, and a few on the fourth.
Several artists — including Funkhouser, Matthew Mosher, Rafael Navarro and Holly Anderson, and Lara Plecas — are repeat participants. Others are taking part for the first time. In some cases, says Sharpe, partnerships people will see this year were forged by artists who connected during a previous ARTELPHX event and decided to collaborate for a future iteration.
Masks created by Lara Plecas have been hanging on walls in and around the hotel's lobby for more than a week now. We found Plecas and fellow artist Melissa Martinez chilling on the hotel's Sky Deck, a rooftop entertainment space, during First Friday earlier this month. Plecas shared that each of the 100 or so plaster masks created for her Residual Energy installation was modeled using the face of a local artist or musician. Look carefully, she says, and you may recognize them. (Sharpe tells us Funkhouser and Navarro masks sit just under the title treatment for Plecas' installation.)
The masks are among the first installations ARTELPHX event-goers will see after they arrive at the hotel. Another lobby installation, Light Reading by Peter Bugg, will cover the wall-size window that separates the lobby's welcome desk from the hotel's restaurant and bar area. Sharpe explains that Bugg drilled holes through tabloid magazines folks will see suspended to create a wall-like barrier.
Expect plenty of action around the pool as well — where Sharpe says a bed will sit for the duration of the event. It's being used by Candy Jimenez of Dulce Dance for a performance piece meant as meditation on all those inner ruminations people confront each day before even getting out of bed and placing their feet on the ground.
Sharpe praises first-time ARTELPHX participant Lauren Sarah Hayes, a Scotland artist and visiting faculty member at ASU, for being the first person to pick up on the fact that there are underwater speakers in The Clarendon Hotel's pool — adding that Hayes' Lucky Dip for this year's ARTELPHX is a site-responsive sound piece. Hayes will be performing on VIP night (an invite-only preview event on May 14), and Sharpe says the artist's music will serve as ambient sound for the duration of this year's event. Sharpe has even suggested on VIP invitations that folks be brave and wear their swimsuits Thursday night.
A ceramic piece by Brian Maxwell, whose cow sculptures you might've seen outside the Milk Bar near Roosevelt Row, will be installed inside a poolside planter. Painter Rachelle Olsen-Veal is transforming work with a pixelated vibe into sculptural pieces that'll be suspended inside a pair of poolside cabanas. A four story wall adjacent to the pool area will sport projections created by Mark Hughes, which are being paired with Katharine Leigh Simpson's From the Ashes, She Arose performance on VIP night.
Lights figure prominently is this year's event, as they have in the past. Sharpe tells us that Matthew Briggs, Garrett Johnson, and Muharrem Yildirim are creating a space within a space called Celestial Variations, which they'll fill with suspended aluminum shapes lit with LED lights. Ceramicist Danielle Wood has a double room that'll be dark except for the phosphorescence created by her wheel-thrown coral forms.
For a performance piece titled Self-Portrait: I honestly can't lie, Alyssa Brown is dancing while attached to lights that move right along with her. It's based, explains Sharpe, on the artist's realization that other peoples' observations inform her awareness of her own mannerisms and gestures. Tyler Hooten's modern dance piece Spectres is being performed in a space lit only by the flashlight function on a mobile phone.
We're told several life-size works are part of this year's mix — including one of Nathaniel Lewis's trademark hot dogs watching television. But also this year's piece by Rafael Navarro and Holly Anderson, which Sharpe describes as a humanoid form in the lotus position created with hundreds of white paper and fabric butterflies. It's accompanied by the sound of Tibetan monks chanting, adding a new layer not present in last year's fabulous flying fish piece.
Although most ARTELPHX works are installed inside hotel rooms, visitors won't always be able to walk inside these rooms. Instead, a few artists are creating works with a voyeuristic element, designed to be viewed through a window looking into the room. That's the case for Room Envy by Leslie Barton and Steve Weiss, and for a Valley of the Dolls-inspired piece by Leilani Hudson, Christian Adame, and Jelena Milesic — although the trio will sometimes travel their piece outside the room and add an interactive component. Artist Christopher "Boats" Oshana casts onlookers as voyeurs by having them view images of photographers take pictures in seedy locations.
It's hard to find a place where art isn't happening once ARTELPHX hits The Clarendon Hotel. A second floor mezzanine will be temporary home to Valyntina Grenier's DON'T SHOOT, which features hanging garlands strewn with models of dangerous weapons to create what Sharpe calls an "interactive environment." CONDER/dance is performing Tiny Dances-Without Warning both in their room and in the hotel lobby. On the Sky Deck, viewers can watch Angel Castro of Halo Movement Collective perform a piece called Rise. Sharpe describes it as projection mapping involving a dancer wearing a fashion design that's connected to an environment.
Some artists are taking a conceptual approach. Inside one room, guests will see Jen Urso creating paper balloons that represent her exhalations, which are meant to convey the message that "one breath out takes up space." As balloons get inflated, they'll be scattered all around her. Ryan Donovan-Schager has created a dance piece based on the five stages of grief.
Dancer Liliana Gomez and Kenny Barrett are creating a spiraling tunnel of newspapers meant to be both beautiful and chaotic while referencing the era of global communication and the onslaught of information. On VIP night, says Sharpe, these dancers will add digital projections featuring trending happenings and hashtags. Sounds like social media is another common theme for this year's event.
Other works include #addict, an interactive dance piece by Liz Ann Hewett that features two dancers making generous use of social media, and a semi-autobiographical bit of puppetry by Dain Quentin Gore that's called Going Outside is Dangerous! An improvisation troupe called Unicorn Warpath is transforming one room into a landscape of clouds and mythical creatures called Unicorn Trip. Objects chosen by onlookers will help to determine the characters' actions as unique works of improvisational theater unfold. Performing artist Jacki Orr's Women Breaking Things installation incorporates projections. We're thinking audience participation on that last one might not be so pretty.
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Sharpe confesses that four of this year's ARTELPHX proposals actually made her "jump up and down" with glee. The Mountains by Matthew Mosher, whose piece for ARTELPHX last fall was a hit, was among them. Sharpe says Mosher is taking discarded boxes and painting them white to create a screen area for video projections of mountain inhabitants. We're especially eager to see what creators of last year's most popular fare, who also include Navarro and Anderson, are bringing to the table this year. For themselves and others, they've set a high bar.
ARTELPHX has become an anticipated annual event around these parts, and Sharpe says she plans to keep it going for many years to come. But she's also planning to create similar events in other states, as well as other countries. That's why she's coined the moniker ARTELSHOW, even though shows in locations beyond Phoenix aren't yet on the books. How cool that Phoenix gets "it happened here first, folks" bragging rights.
ARTELPHX takes place Thursday, May 14 through Saturday, May 16 at The Clarendon Hotel. Find more information on the ARTELPHX website.