Artists Find Shangrila at Joshua Tree

Joshua Rickards work brightens the landscape.

Joshua Rickard’s work brightens the landscape. Photo by MC.

A number of Fine Arts faculty and staff as well as undergraduate and graduate alumni travelled to Joshua Tree over the Labor Day weekend to participate in Shangrila 2015: Peak Experiences. The event was curated by Short House (aka Michelle Chong (’06), Fine Arts Department Office Manager) and produced by Drew Dunlap, (’06). A desert art event, Shangrila’s fifth and final incarnation featured over 50 U.S. and international artists and performers who camped out, exhibited art and sound performances, and visited the Integratron for a sound bath. Many of the U.S. artists from the inaugural event took part again. Among the participants were faculty members Scott Grieger, Steven Bankhead, Ian James, and Dani Tull; staff members, Mike Pierzynski and Mark Farina, (‘18); and alumni Derek Corns, (’15), Marquita Flowers (’14), Christina Mancinas, (’15), Samantha Greenfeld (’13), and Jessica York (’12). Additionally, Sydhavn Station, a collective from Copenhagen, and Evan Walsh of Kchung Radio made appearances.

Dani Tull jams.

Dani Tull jams. Photo by MC.

HT: HOW AND WHEN DID THE EVENT ORIGINATE?

MC:Shangrila started from a desire to bring people out into the desert landscape and to experiment with collective creativity. Drew Dunlap officially started Shangrila in 2012, but the first event was actually back in 2007 with a small experimental video screening with a few friends. The event was titled “FR8” and it was the beginning of it all. Since then, Dunlap has invited guest curators to collaborate on the annual exhibitions, including myself, Steven Bankhead and Jesse Benson, and Durdan and Ray.

Michelle Chong addresses the crowd.

Michelle Chong addresses the crowd. Photo by Jessica York.

Over the years, a deep appreciation has developed for the ritual act of coming together. I think I can speak for many when I say Shangrila has become something I look forward to every summer. It’s about the experience of being out in the desert, letting go, taking in, and realizing all the people around you are a part of that moment with you.”

HT: WHAT WAS THE CURATORIAL PREMISE?

MC: “The inspiration for the show stemmed from my interest in transpersonal psychology. The concept of the show embraced the integration of spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience and the notion of interconnectedness. “Peak Experiences” describe moments accompanied by a euphoric mental state often achieved by self-actualizing individuals. The concept was originally developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1964, who describes peak experiences as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.” I think these ideas relate to the energy of Shangrila, the desert landscape, and the fact that so many artists came from around the world to share in the experience. We had artists from Copenhagen, Sheffield, England, Vienna, New York, Philadelphia, Vancouver, B.C., Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles participate.“

The Semi-Tropic Spiritualists perform.

The Semi-Tropic Spiritualists perform. Photo by MC.

HT: WAS THIS THE LAST SHANGRILA EVENT? WHY?

MC: “Yes, this was the last one. I think we reached our peak! Every year the event got bigger and bigger. When the attendance got up into the hundreds, it turned into something different. At this time, we’re enjoying reflecting on everything that was created over the years. We feel grateful .”

HT: WHERE DID ARTISTS STAY WHILE AT THE SITE?

MC: “Most artists camped on site and some stayed in private rentals or motels in Joshua Tree.”

HT: HOW WAS THE WEATHER?

MC: “Amazing! We couldn’t have asked for better weather! It wasn’t too hot during the day and the nighttime was lovely. The moon stayed down until the early morning, so the Milky Way was dominant in the sky.”

HT: DESCRIBE THE ATMOSPHERE.

MC: “I’m still decompressing from everything! It was an experience filled with so many wonderful people, kick-ass amazing art, psychedelic live jams, lots of homemade food, and the beautiful meditative desert landscape. “

Michelle Chong sounds a gong near a print by Scott Grieger.

Shana Healing performs near a print by Scott Grieger. Photo by MC.

Sculpture by Annetta Kapon catches the wind in the foreground.

Sculpture by Annetta Kapon catches the wind in the foreground. Photo by MC.

HT: WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT?

MC: “There are too many to list! I do remember walking around the campground at night with a few friends, and when we came up on the main area where all the art was installed, and the bands were playing, and people were dancing, I thought to myself how amazing it was that we all came together at this moment. I got a little teary eyed! I felt connected to something larger than myself. It was a peak experience!”

HT: WHAT WAS CHALLENGING ABOUT STAGING THIS EVENT?

MC: “There were a lot of parts to keep on top of: international artists arriving, travel grants, accommodations, food, installation, the usual. Nothing we haven’t tackled before. It actually went pretty smoothly looking back! And Drew and I work really well together. It helps that we’ve been close friends for many years.”

A sculpture by Eric Sarbach is silhouetted against the landscape.

A sculpture by Eric Sarbach is silhouetted against the setting sun. Photo by MC.

css.php