The Double JJ Ranch has been the host of a major music festival three previous times, with this year being the fourth. One of the most common gripes about the new direction of Electric Forest (as opposed to the old Rothbury) is that it’s got too much emphasis on electronic music. Fair enough. But the people who are choosing to pass on EFF due to a perceived lack of bands are missing a huge part of the equation. The common thread that holds all of the festivals together are the grounds, in particular, the spectacular Sherwood Forest. Not only is the forest a focal point, it has truly gotten better and better each year. The sky is the limit with an environment like this and this year promises to continue the upward trend of the wonder of Sherwood Forest. I got the art coordinator of Electric Forest, Tia Christiansen, on the phone to find out what it takes to put this thing together and what we can expect this year.
Frazier: Can you explain your role in the design of Electric Forest?
Tia Christiansen: I’m the art coordinator for Electric Forest, which includes visual art and performance art. I’m also one of three people who manage Sherwood Forest. The other two people who are involved with Sherwood Forest are Brad Lyman and Andy Carroll.
Frazier: How long has the forest setup taken you?
Tia: I never really stopped working on Electric Forest. We’ve been talking with people and reviewing proposals pretty much since October of 2011 for the current year.
Frazier: So you’ve physically been in the forest since October setting things up?
Tia: Actual setup? No. We don’t start actually setting up the forest until about 10 days out. The bulk of the installations come in the Sunday and Monday before the festival. In terms of proposals and logistics and setting things up, that began in October.
Frazier: Wow, so there’s a lot of planning that goes in but only a short amount of time to really make it all happen.
Frazier: How many different elements would you say there are in the forest? You know, between the stretch sheets, the lights, dancers, lasers… how much actually goes into the forest?
Tia: With regard to the variety of elements that create the atmosphere in the forest, I’d say there’s about a dozen different things that contribute to creating the energy and the look there. Between the variety of people & performers, as well as the art that’s installed, it adds up to about a dozen elements that come together to create what you experience.
Frazier: How much energy — or how many generators — go into powering the forest at night?
Tia: If I remember correctly, there are four or five generators.
Frazier: That’s quite a few less than I figured there would be.
Tia: You know, it’s not that we need so many generators; the power draw is fairly minimal. The important part is the distribution of that power and how we get it from the generator and out to the various areas. So, for example, you can power a stage with one generator. But with the forest, it’s such a wide space, what we have to do is have multiple generators in a few locations just so that we can distribute the power in a way that is safe and logical.
Frazier: Cool. So what does Jamin Murphy from Funktion Forms (stretch sheet installations) bring to the table as far as design in the forest?
Tia: Jamin brings a lot. We’ve been fortunate to have Jamin on board since 2009 on that property. Jamin and Funktion Forms bring an ability to create designs that are geometrically interesting, as well as functional. It’s really something that’s very unique. For example, in 2009, he built the flower out in the Tripolee area. So from an aerial view it looked exactly like a blooming flower. Last year in the Tripolee area he built a beautiful structure that was in the shape of a pterodactyl. So not only are those installations functional, offering shade and color and the ability to project images and create different canvasses for light, but they’re always in very interesting shapes. It’s the type of thing that reminds me of those psychology tests from high school where you look at an ink blot and one way looks like an old woman, but another way looks like a young woman. That’s what Jamin’s approach is, that they’re able to create something that, at first glance, looks just like beautiful stretch fabric in a variety of colors. But then, if you really look at it, there is a definite & distinct structure to it.
Frazier: One of the things that I find very interesting is that all of the pieces are stimulating both during the day, as well as at night. So what are the principles behind your approach to creating something that works well both day and night?
Tia: It’s one of the first things that we mention when we receive proposals, is that whatever art piece people propose to us has to be totally beautiful in both settings. One way to do that is to focus an installation on specific colors, or a specific shape, having it be interactive in an interesting way. We want people to approach these things during the day and interact with it, the type of thing you’d want to photograph. But at night, there are a variety of ways to make them even more interesting is with lights and/or projections.
Frazier: What makes Sherwood Forest special to you?
Tia: For me, one of the things that makes it so special is that before we bring any art or lighting or anything into the forest, it has it’s own unique energy and is a very special place to begin with. I can stand in the middle of the forest – it sounds very funny, very Californian – I can just feel a very special energy in that forest. Who knows why or how… it’s just one of the mysteries of life. It’s actually a hand-planted forest, which I think makes it even more special. And before we bring anything in, there are already things that exist there. So when we bring art in, we want to create something new every year by adding to the magic that’s already there. The other thing that makes Sherwood so special are the amazing artists who contribute to the energy and the look & feel of the forest. Everybody comes together as a team, working together to create an amazing experience for attendees.
Frazier: Without giving up too much, is there anything new this year that you’re particularly excited about?
Tia: There a number of things that I’m very excited about but I don’t wanna give any of that up and risk ruining the surprise. But what I can talk about are some of the amazing performing art troupes that we’ve partnered with this year that we’re all very excited to have. We’ve got Vau de Vire Society, out of San Francisco, and they have an amazing ability to interact with people and also produce some of the most interesting stage shows. They will be in and around the forest, so people should just be ready to be surprised by what you will see from them in the forest as well as their set on the Forest Stage. The other performance troupe that I’m excited to work with is Quixotic out of Kansas City. They’re doing some of the freshest, most unique performance art that I’ve seen in a really long time on the festival circuit. We’re very excited to have them with us. They will also be in and around the forest and have sets on the Forest Stage. What’s been so amazing working and talking with both of these troupes, is that the Forest Stage is a very intimate setting, much different than a large stage that they typically perform on. They’ve come up with very interesting ways to incorporate the area around the stage, as well as the stage itself. It’s only a 12×16 foot stage, so it’s very small overall. They are looking at the entire area as their performance space, which was been artistically exciting for them and the design team. When people arrive, it’s not gonna be something just happening on the stage that they sit there and watch, it will be a variety on and off the stage.
Frazier: What would you say to people to convince them to come to Electric Forest?
Tia: It will absolutely be the most unique experience that they will have at any festival. Everything that we do, all of the approaches we take, the energy we try to create is one where people can come and experience something that they’ve yet to experience before and help them tap into their own creative energy, and that they can become a part of creating the overall experience. We have a number of contests that we’re launching and have launched to encourage people to participate even before they arrive at the festival. That’s something that’s unique to Electric Forest – nobody is doing that on the level that we are. The level of interactive art installations and the number of performance artists who are interacting with the attendees is more than any other festival out there. So for somebody who is on the fence on coming to Electric Forest: it’s all there to be discovered and everything that we do is there help facilitate personal transformation and development.
Frazier: Love that. I have that experience every time I go to Sherwood Forest.
Tia: That’s great to hear. The crux of my approach is to encourage transformation in a way that’s very comfortable for everyone. There are some people who’ve been going to festivals for years and years and they’re ready to jump in – they’ll participate in anything. But some other people are new to this, and just interacting on the pathway might be a unique thing for them, so we want to have a range of experiences that will appeal to anyone, no matter where they are in their festival life.
Frazier: Awesome. So is there anything else you’d want to have in this preview piece?
Tia: We (Moving Parts Productions) are just really excited to be back at Electric Forest. There are some art pieces this year that will really astound people and it’s definitely going to be unlike anything you could see at any festival anywhere else.