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PARK CITY, Utah — Behind the shopping plaza location of the press-and-industry screening hub known as the Holiday Village Cinemas, and tucked behind the celebrity favorite restaurant Blind Dog, stands Park City’s shuttered Anderson’s Lumberyard. Recently remade by local businessman Mark Fisher as a music venue called The Yard, the sprawling warehouses turned into the trans-media exhibition space New Frontier The Yard for the 10-day Sundance Film Festival.
Open to the general public in addition to accredited press and industry festival attendees, New Frontier The Yard flashes signs of life as the all-access, community village Sundance so desperately needs in an environment of sold-out screenings and invite-only parties. Yet, ironically, New Frontier remains somewhat hidden and off-the-beaten path.
A handful of press follows the snowy path past the warehouse buildings and squeeze through a barricaded access road to get to New Frontier. It’s January 25 and the experimental media group Early Morning Opera is staging an afternoon performance/press conference featuring their spokesman/character Paul Abacus.
Sporting black greasepaint stripes beneath both eyes (Adam Ant nostalgia), Abacus pokes fun at Sundance’s celebrity culture by stepping to the podium to address questions about his “supposed” existence.
“Hello, my name is Paul Abacus,” Abacus says matter-of-factly, while members of Early Morning Opera snap photos and yell out questions. “I’m very real. My given name may or may not be Abacus. What does that mean anymore? It’s troubling to me that absurd stories like this have been popping up right when we get to Sundance, right when we reach the stage when we’re able to communicate our ideas with the world. Do not let something as silly as whether or not I exist distract you from the very important message that we’re talking about.”
The performance/press conference ends quickly allowing the Early Morning Opera team time to prepare for their multimedia performance in the evening as well as pop-up performances all across Park City. If you’re agenda is to break down the walls of media, performance and cinema, there’s no time to waste.
Want to see the future of the Sundance Film Festival? Curious to see how Sundance makes use of new technology and platforms for storytelling while sweeping away old festival stereotypes like Paris Hilton stopping traffic on Main Street? For Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of New Frontier, The Yard is the place to be.
“[Sundance founder Robert] Redford is the biggest champion of this initiative,” Frilot says, sitting in The Yard’s lounge after leading prospective sponsors on a tour of the exhibition. “He really feels this is the part of the festival that’s taking on the future of storytelling.”
True to the Sundance brand as the world’s most famous independent film festival, New Frontier is the artistic descendant of the festival’s Frontier section, dedicated to showing experimental films from artists like Matthew Barney, a 2006 exhibition space and display for new production equipment located in an underground shopping mall, a brief relocation to Park City’s historic Miner’s Hospital and finally landing this year at The Yard.
While Sundance’s film programs receive thousands of films to consider, Frilot says New Frontier comes together from frequent gallery and museum visits with her soliciting work from artists she believes celebrate the convergence of film, art and media. Sundance does not function as a commissioning agent at this time and artists and their respective gallery agents are expected to fund the installations. However, just as there are summer labs at the Sundance Institute to support the work of filmmakers, screenwriters and playwrights, there’s a new lab for the New Frontier program to support storytellers who want to tell stories across platforms.
“Question Bridge: Black Males” is a media sculpture on online community by media artist Hank Willis Thomas and photographer Chris Johnson, who is a New Frontier Story Lab graduate. The piece is an interactive dialogue featuring black males recording various questions for men at various locations across the country to answer in real time. The work represents Frilot’s goal of showcasing new media works that combine the cyber context with a geographic context; the video installation at New Frontier The Yard, as well as the “warm human body” context of the visitors interacting with the piece. The art work is also currently on exhibit is other locations around the country, including the Brooklyn Museum.
Granted, some of the works remain part of the tradition spectator-artwork dynamic.
The first piece visitors see at The Yard is Milan-born and New York-based artist Marco Brambilla‘s 3-D stereoscopic video collage “Evolution (Megaplex)” (2010) that tells the history of the world as seen through the eyes of famous movies scenes and characters.
A smaller version of his famous video installation at The Standard Hotel, what “Evolution (Megaplex)” lacks in scale it makes up for in intimacy and impact as viewers stand just feet away from the screen with 3D glasses balancing on their noses.
Media artists Eva and Franco Mattes offer a similar viewing experience with their media sculpture “My Generation” (2010), which resembles a readymade desktop computer smashed on the floor. The sculpture comes alive via a video work of young people upset over technical snafus preventing them from playing video games.
The standout pieces at New Frontier The Yard are truly interactive and invite visitors into the art itself.
For “Hunger in Los Angeles” (2011), former Newsweek correspondent Nonny de la Peña recreates a recent fight at the First Unitarian food bank in Los Angeles via Hunger In Los Angeles, an immersive game that places people at the incident via head-mounted goggles, a body-tracking harness, live audio and Unity 3D simulation.
Bear 71, a collaboration by Vancouver-based digital artist Jeremy Mendes and documentary filmmaker Leanne Mendes; allows visitors to interact with Canadian Rockies wildlife and a grizzly bear tagged by Banff National Park rangers using their smart phones and a large wall-mounted screen.
The Italian artists group Molleindustria combine art, storytelling and gaming with “Radical Games Against The Tyranny Of Entertainment,” an installation of classic video game consoles that allow users to question the politics of petroleum companies, fast food corporations and the military industrial complex via re-appropriated video games called “Phone Story,” “Orgasm Simulator,” “Oligarchy” and “McDonald’s Video Game.”
“The experience of New Frontier is meant to resonate with our everyday experience in a fully immersive media environment,” Frilot says, before heading off to the Library Center Theatre for a screening.
New Frontier also has a life beyond its exhibition galleries. Panels by Adobe, Canon and Yahoo introduce new methods of storytelling to the Sundance community. An on-site micro-cinema hosts performances by the filmmaker Mridu Chandra and Dave Liang of the music group The Shanghai Restoration Project as well as a performance by Early Morning Opera and Paul Abacus that uses real-time video and spinning Steadicam operators to upend the TED talk experience into something mind altering.
New Frontier also bursts free from its Park City environs with a parallel exhibition at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) through May 19 and then heading back to the Sundance Resort for its sophomore New Frontier story lab.
Next year? Well, Frilot hints at the possibility at more parallel exhibitions in order to build audiences for this new media work.
“We have always been a discovery festival and we have always followed the artists,” Frilot adds. “They’re taking us into a whole new frontier and a whole new land. It’s here to say. The word trans-media may come and go but we’re going to continue to expand. Cinematic stories used to entertain us. Now we use it as a language.”
New Frontier The Yard exhibit at Sundance Film Festival took place Friday, January 20 to Saturday, January 28 at The Yard (1251 Kearns Boulevard, Park City, Utah). The exhibition has a second component that is taking place at UMOCA (20 South West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah) until May 19.
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