Curating Interactive Design at the Symbiosis Festival

01 REUnion Palace by Joel Dean Stockdill and Shrine Futures Past by Kate Raudenbush

As musicians create a cacophony of sounds that emanates across the festival grounds at the Woodward Reservoir in California, nearby gather-goers will step into a sculpture shaped like a fish lantern to layer another sensory stimulation on top of their auditory one.

The Symbiosis Gathering purposefully injects an immersive, artistic exploration along with the musical jubilation in this community-gathering event. On the festival grounds, you’ll find interactive art installations such as a mobile farmhouse front porch where people can gather, play music, and even bake cookies. A kinetic squid sculpture with ceramic totems that emulate a lantern effect with the LED lights lit within them. And on the water, ornate art boats float, which guests will swim up to and meet fellow gatherers. Some of the boats feature DJ’s spinning tunes. And we can’t neglect to the mention the Hug Deli. It resembles Lucy’s psychiatric booth from the Peanut Cartoons, but instead of Lucy’s often callous opinion, guests receive a hug style of their choice.

Art curator, Will Chase, for the event shares with us how he plans the interactive, immersive experience that will enamor guests at the weekend-long festival on Sept. 22 – 25. Read our interview with him here.

Photo provided by Zac Carroll, the designer of the front porch installation

Photo provided by Zac Carroll, the designer of the front porch installation

Insights on Curating Interactive Design

What do you do?

I’m the art director for Symbiosis Gathering. What I’m responsible for is sourcing art installations, sculptures and different types of art to deliver the optimal experience for people coming to the festival. The idea is to create a really rich experience for people who want it [the experience] to inspire them and change their brain a bit.

What considerations/criteria did you look at when planning the art installations?

First and foremost, I look for interactive components, meaning it’s more about how people are going to interact with it (the art) and when they bring interaction to it. The art isn’t really complete until someone is interacting with it. So those are things foremost that I look for. Then I look for a good thematic variety. Our festival is built on a peninsula that sits in the middle of a reservoir that you can swim in. You can swim anywhere off the festival grounds if you get right to the waters edge. I bring in a lot of water elements as a result. I also look for things that have that community gathering space.

How many art installations will be there at Symbiosis?

It’s a little hard to discern that actual number, particularly with the Symbiosis Gathering. At Symbiosis Gathering, the entire experience is art. All of the design and structures of the buildings, the infrastructure, the layout. Everything is very, very artistic. In terms of a number of actual installations I’m going to be having, this time probably in the order of 20, and they vary in size. Generally speaking, they are of medium to large size — large-scale sculpture.


Illumacanth by Rebecca Anders

How do you find the artists?
My company is called Will Chase Arts, and Symbiosis is basically one of my clients. I used to be the operations manager for the art department at Burning Man back in the 2000’s. In the process of working with all the Burning Man artists, I got to know all the artists and all their friends and that began there.

When you’re planning the art installations for each festival, do you go by a theme or how do you select the actual art pieces?

It’s thematic in a way — not where I’m saying my theme is going to be the ocean or something like that — I don’t do it that way. It’s more what’s the style and vibe of the event and the people who will be participating. I try to create a rich, varied offering. Symbiosis Gathering tends to be a little bit sort of what I call the tribal hippie style. I do a lot of psychedelic art. There’s a lot of what I called tripper traps, which are a lot of psychedelic LEDs and really beautiful, ornate, laser-cut experiences, sculptures and stuff. I look for things without sharp edges, meaning I don’t want a lot of really angry looking stuff because it’s a soft-loving community. You create an easel with bamboo, a lot of lycra and a lot of soft colors.

14 Malena Gross Flower of LIfe Cycles by Malena Grosz

What do you love about being an art curator for festivals?
What’s interesting about this process is creating a flow of experience. Imagining how a participant is going to approach the piece. What different directions they are coming at it from, how it’s entered energetically in space and amongst other things so that you don’t create pinch points, but you also create, you give the piece enough room to breathe and the experience in its own right. And you think carefully how people are going to interact with the piece – are they going to climb on top of it, how are we lighting it during the day or a night so that people can do that safely and at the same time really create a beautiful experience.


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