A sense of possibility grounded in local creativity: reviewing the visual art at Elsewhere Fest

More than 50 artists contributed to the inaugural two-day music festival. If you missed it, a closing reception will take place this evening at 215 N. St. Francis St.

A sense of possibility grounded in local creativity: reviewing the visual art at Elsewhere Fest
Indoor and outdoor projections were major components of Elsewhere Fest's visual style. Photo by Emily Christensen for the SHOUT

I spent last Friday night within a two-square-block section of downtown Wichita, but every so often I had to remind myself of where I was. 

The first Elsewhere Fest & Conference transformed a slice of the city into a multi-venue music and art experience, fostering opportunity and connection for local and out-of-town musicians and artists. It left me with a palpable sense of possibility. 

Festival organizers tasked Harvester Arts with curating and coordinating the art components of the festival, ultimately engaging with 45 local and seven out-of-town artists on a rapid timeline that Harvester Arts Executive Director Kristin Beal says started in March.

Discussing the project with Beal as she guided me around the bustling festival area on St. Francis Street and Emporia Streets last Thursday, the phrase “something unexpected” came up often, as in, “To capture people’s imagination and attention, you need something unexpected.”

Confusion and lack of focus can be unwelcome side effects of too much “unexpected,” but the art elements integrated into the festival provided both continuity and surprise. If you missed the event, much of its outdoor installations are still on view, and the Elsethere art venue will be open to the public for a closing reception from 6-8 p.m. tonight. 

Painted dinosaurs were situated throughout the festival area. Photo by Jason Crile for the SHOUTk

A proliferation of stunning work from graffiti artist Rob Lewis and crew adorn walls, shipping containers, and perimeter fence screens. The graffiti extends to a menagerie of aluminum dinosaurs acquired by Harvester Arts through a chance local Facebook Marketplace ad. Positioned throughout the festival, the brontosauruses provided photo opportunities and improvised festival seating options, serving as a distinctive, yet humorously ironic marker for a forward-thinking venture. 

Outdoor projections also provided additional compelling visuals and served as signposts for the festival area. Wichita artist Julian Kincaid’s work was featured in festival locations such as Naftzger Park and outside the Wave venue. The “Frequency” projection by Boston-based MF Dynamics, shown at the northwest corner of Douglas and St. Francis, included images and sounds collected from Wichita. The Little Explorers business name on the side of the building peeked its way through the projection, providing a happy accidental layer of meaning as creative explorations abounded.

Kincaid and MF Dynamics’ work were also featured Elsethere, the festival’s art venue: Kincaid’s psychedelic, saturated liquid light projections, and MF Dynamics’ percussion-focused multimedia performance.

Where Else, a temporary outdoor music venue at 234 N. Emporia Avenue, was an incredible transformation of a vacant downtown lot. New York artist Aaron Asis’ design for the space incorporated shipping containers in configurations conveying a sense of rhythm and movement along with the compelling visual reference to the graffitied trains that pass through the center of the city. 

The northwest corner at First and St. Francis further showcased Asis’ interest in activating under-utilized spaces in collaboration with Harvester Arts Managing Director Mina Estrada’s Smack Dab Dance Lab, which provides local choreographers and dancers opportunities to share their work. Asis’ co-opted business sign and mural make visual reference to the festival dinosaurs as well as call back to a series of Harvester Arts community-building projects. As Smack Dab’s dancers took to the northwest corner rooftop at sunset for a pop-up performance accompanied by cellist Corey Bell, a crowd gathered to observe, and drivers headed east on First Street took notice of the happening in a sublime moment. The text on Asis’ sign, “I think there should be more art in the city where I belong” struck with poignancy.  

Artist Lisa Rundstrom, who relocated to Georgia from Wichita 2017, brought three tripartite tower sculptures to the festival featuring plants indigenous to Kansas as well as her current home in Savannah. While the sculptures’ botanical elements appear to grow organically out of the urban environment, the nature tableau is interrupted by the emergence of a white tower from the central piece, symbolizing, “man’s interruption of nature,” according to the artist. The illuminated sculptures are solar-powered, raising questions about environmental responsibility and the sustainability of our actions, and whether we are acting in opposition to or in harmony with nature.

Elsethere, the dedicated art space for the festival, inhabits the former Loony Bin Comedy Club at 215 N. St. Francis, and it was free and open the public during the event. The unused building has been transformed into a creative hub for the multiple artists who participated in making work in response to the festival.

“Icey T & Vee’s Liquidations,” an installation described by the Wichita-based creative duo chpndl and Dreamverb as a “semi glitched-out electronics store,” greets visitors as they enter the Elsethere venue.

“Icey T & Vee’s,” a mashup between the airport code for Wichita (ICT) and abbreviation for television (TV) is ostensibly a store. There’s no one working the counter, but the display area of a store counter features canvases of cartoon-style images of entities with human faces. Several surreal paintings hang on the wall behind the counter, including a painting of a giant eyeball. A stacked array of glowing CRT monitors display motionless jellyfish. A video camera directed toward visitors is connected to a glitchy combination TV/VCR unit, beckoning the viewer to participate. Stepping in front of the camera provokes a simultaneous sense of interest (oooh, am I on camera?) and unease (wait, who’s watching me?). A seemingly inviting vase of fake flowers sits incongruously next to the store’s “Closed Circuit Television on Premises” sign.

Adjacent to the store display area of the installation, a television stand decorated with 1970s-style faux greenery appears to welcome viewers into a living room space. Upon second look, the television is sitting improbably above a glowing electric fireplace heater — an absurd setup that renders both machines unusable. 

In contrast to chpndl and Dreamverb’s collaboration, which simultaneously intrigues and disorients, Chloe and Connor Lang’s collaborative art installation comprising Connor Lang’s light boxes and Chloe Lang’s abstract canvases, invites the viewer into a contemplative experience at the center of the dynamic festival environment.

Connor Lang’s series of light boxes, which incorporate photographic images and mixed media, evoke blurry flashes of recall from memories or dreams.Some scenes conjure the potentially darker side of memories and dreams. The child’s bedroom scene in “Don’t Look Under Your Bed,” for example, evokes feelings of apprehension provoked by imagined or real dangers lurking where we sleep. 

Objects incorporated in “All My Heart,” a mixed assemblage light box, evoke the spontaneous feelings of delight and nostalgia in finding a trove of childhood treasures. A Mickey Mouse hand wand, a pink plastic bee, and a green stingray are affixed to the front of the light box, along with a light switch. Flicking the switch illuminates the lights inside the box, which reveal the small plastic treasures within, such as dice, in an otherworldly glow.

Chloe Lang’s three 60 by 48 inch oil on canvas abstractions, installed together at the center of Connor’s array of light boxes, invite the viewer to engage with the artist’s creative decisions. “Prelude (Rehearsal)” has a spontaneous, open quality. Hints of canvas appear from behind loosely sweeping brushstrokes. Lines convey relationships between the few loosely rendered abstract objects. By contrast, “Untitled (Framework)” presents objects organized within a tightly gridded system, and we contemplate the objects as they either emerge from or are constrained by the sections of the multi-colored grid.

An abundance of joyful flowers push forth among white, cloud-like objects in the color-drenched landscape of “Untitled (Elsewhere).” Chloe drew inspiration from the open possibilities of what “Elsewhere” represents. “I guess I was kind of intrigued with the concept of Elsewhere: imaginative, full of joy, curious, and very abstract,” she explained in a reel from the festival’s Instagram account. 

The Elsethere space also hosted a performance by MF Dynamics by Maria Finkelmeier at 8 p.m. on June 21, Day 1 of the Elsewhere Fest & Conference.

Boston-based percussionist/composer/Berklee College of Music professor Finkelmeier began her career as a classically trained musician who was inspired to adopt percussion for the variety of instruments she would be able to play. Ultimately, she considered how she could seek opportunities for engaging people in public spaces and providing broader access to music, embracing the concept of “Classical AND…” 

Although Finkelmeier and the artists affiliated with her MF Dynamics project play music venues as prestigious as Carnegie Hall and public spaces as unexpected as Fenway Park (literally — playing the structure of Fenway Park as an instrument), she brought an intimate multimedia experience to the Elsethere space with accompaniment from digital media artist Allison Tanenhaus.

Playing to an appreciative audience, Finkelmeier encouraged festival-goers to pop in or out as the mood struck, underscoring the differences between spontaneous discovery inherent in a festival environment versus the accepted conventions and expectations of an audience attending a formal orchestral performance.

Finkelmeier performed a set of seven pieces of music on marimba, consisting of six original compositions and a bit of Bach. 

Whirling back and forth across the marimba (not a xylophone, as she was sure to mention), Finkelmeier occasionally traded in traditional mallets for sticks with hands on the end, and punctuated the marimba-focused music with bells, loops and additional sound elements incorporated using a pedal. Even aluminum foil made a sound effect appearance.

Finkelmeier noted during several pieces, such as “Superhero Butterfly,” that the visual projection elements were a representation of her body and arm movements, recorded while playing the piece in a motion capture suit. These and other projections developed by Allison Tanenhaus that accompanied each piece enhanced the feeling of connection to the experience of the performance. 

Festival-goers pass by a newly painted mural on St. Francis Street last Friday. Photo by Jason Crile for the SHOUT

It feels worth noting that the art — and everything else — at Elsewhere Fest was made possible by a single benefactor. The level of funding provided to artists is laudable, but there are inherent risks in such an arrangement, including real or perceived influence over content. Of course, this is a conversation that extends well beyond Elsewhere Fest, but it’s one worth having.  

Overall, the visual art components integrated into the festival in ways that delighted and surprised. The quality, diversity, and sheer scope of work presented for festival-goers to experience was mind-blowing. For a few hours it did feel as though I had gone to another place. The visual art both enhanced that feeling and challenged it at the same time, igniting a sense of possibility grounded in local creativity. 

The Details

Elsewhere Festival Artist Showcase
6-8 p.m. Friday, June 28, at Elsethere, 215 N. St. Francis St. in Wichita
The festival's temporary art venue, located in building once occupied by the Loony Bin Comedy Club, will be open to the public this evening. Also on view: works by muralists and graffiti artists along St. Francis and Emporia Streets, particularly at the location of the Where Else festival stage at 234 N. Emporia Ave. Aaron Asis' temporary installation "Dear Elsewhere" is still on view at the northwest corner of First and St. Francis Streets.
Learn more.

Krista Vollack is a corporate content creator and creative problem solver by day, an art and music fan 24/7. She lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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