“Absolut X Philly” rounds out surreal community arts engagement series

(Architecture for Humanity)

In the moments before an elaborate party, an entire universe seems held in a state of suspension.

Deep within Philadelphia’s repurposed Electric Factory, blue patterned lights sweep a dance floor, empty save for staff in black tees crossing to their last-minute preparations. Clusters of other staffers chat before their shifts begin. Mic checks and dubstep blurts are teased out of the DJ booth on stage. A draped-off temporary kitchen finishes its jump start on the evening’s custom fare. Soon the Blade Runner X ladies are positioned to greet guests with trays full of hors d’oeuvres and masks. On the venue’s largest wall, looping projections of kitten faces silently oversee these preparations – and indicate the peculiar direction things will take once the doors open, in 10 minutes or so.

This isn’t just any party – this is Absolut X. A touring immersive collaboration of culture and art, music and masquerade, challenging party goers to realize their and their city’s identity, and build a Millennial manifesto. Absolut (a spirits company) has been working with artists for decades to examine the crossroads of popular art participation – now they’re wondering what emerging 21st Century professionals have to say.

In one corner of the sapphire Electric Factory, a crew of multimedia artists ready hardware, backdrops and props for the evening’s lasting output. As in Seattle, Chicago, New York, Austin and Miami, the Philadelphia artists are orchestrating a public art installation, made in no small party by the attendees themselves. Accustomed to plastering museums and dance halls alike with mind-boggling light shows and performances, the Klip Collective may be the best artists in Philly to draw connections between good times and inspired creation.

The Electric Factory just north of downtown Philadelphia remixes the city’s Ben Franklin worship; Ben hung back a bit, but was definitely a fixture at this party

Testing the lighting before the party. The VIP lounge rests safely away from the atmospheric immersion of the dance floor; Klip Collective’s Ricardo Rivera chats with DJ David Pianka before the doors open

Philadelphia’s may be the most cohesive X entry to date. The video mappers (as their most ambitious works are described) tonight are joined by rock outfit Twin Shadow and local mixologist Tim Heuisler, of Philly’s Time restaurant. The artists and musicians have collaborated previously, and Heuisler has devised a series of cocktails that manifest these artists’ sensibilities.

The resulting environment lent a sense of mystery and intrigue. Then the doors opened. As attendees streamed into the space, donning masks and flaunting homemade costumes, a slowly crescendoing DJ set by David Pianka eased everyone into an alternate universe. Thousands of Absolut X selves explored their identities: from the cocktails, screen printing and face painting stations, to Klip’s futurized dance zone.

The Klip Collective’s projected backdrop responded to movement and lights swung by partygoers. Several hours of abstract interaction were captured, to be edited into a coherent visual signature of the evening.

Underprepared masquerade attendees could don a gratuit mask for Absolut anonymity; Klip also generated four tee-shirt designs, pressed on demand for attendees

The interactive setup, a projected, motion-responsive backdrop, simultaneously reaches to the future and to the past of interactive art. Ricardo Rivera, cofounder of the Collective, describes their setup after the fact:

“The installation we are putting together is a throwback piece in the style of Nam Jun Paik mashed up with the pure form of video feedback. We are taking the video content from the Absolut X event of concert-goers dancing in the video feedback and playing it in a video sculpture of salvaged CRT monitors with bright LEDs. It’s a celebration of vintage video art.”

While people manipulated shapes and colors they were being live-broadcast on the large wall across the factory – images melted into the atmosphere and the line blurred between experiensor and creator – an aptly closed loop for the secret night / light fest.

The fully in-motion evening paved way for Twin Shadow to deliver an explosive live set. Here Klip took reins on the lighting, and coordinated to the music a feverish display of textures, colors and  virtual elements. The band’s percussive 80’s throwback sound dovetailed perfectly with the age-ambiguous themes defining the rest of this microverse.

As the confetti fell during Twin Shadow’s hit Five Seconds, the mesmerizing evening announced its imminent conclusion – yet, with luck, a piece of its wonderment will soon be reaching out to the wider world.

Twin Shadow’s exquisite performance may have been outdone by Klip’s mesmerizing light show; Confetti drops at the nadir of Five Seconds

In the daylight beyond the walls of the Electric Factory, the artists and local chapters of Architecture for Humanity from each Absolut X host city are working to install their night’s magic-infused productions. The work from Austin, Texas, has already found a home, where the splash of energy and spontaneity have been welcomed by the Austin Lumber Company. As you read this, Philadelphia’s Klip Collective is investigating where their work will fit, as a video and still image installation, while they apply edits and finishing touches.

We’re excited to see how these installations enhance the neighborhoods that have adopted them. Admittedly, this form of collaboration is a first for Architecture for Humanity – a remix, if you will, of the themes of community-engaged and -led improvements to the built environment.

But all the elements have been established to ensure the host city develops and installs an appropriate and self-aware installation fit for the 21st Century. The works reflect the energy that can emerge when a group of cohabitants are compelled to collaborate. The pieces offer a portal to a space where such things are not only possible, but meaningful.

We can only guess at this moment how the pieces are ultimately received. Some things only the light of time’s passage can reveal.

The other parties: Chicago (11/15): Holy Ghost! x Nick Cave x Lynn House; Austin (5/2): Walk the Moon x Cruz Ortiz x Chris Bostick; Miami (5/16): Bloc Party x Agustina Woodgate x John Lermayer; Seattle (6/27): GRIMES x Bert Rodriguez x Keith Waldbauer; New York (7/11): Santigold x Sanford Biggers x Naren Young.


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