You Are Here Festival (Sam Hillmer and Laura Paris of Trouble + Patrick Higgins): Interview
“Since there’s no front or back row, it’s an experience without a center and without an exterior.”
Trouble is the duo of Laura Paris (sculptor) and Sam Hillmer (saxophonist in ZS, Diamond Terrifier), and Patrick Higgins (Bachanalia) is a composer and guitarist. The three are organizers of the You Are Here art and music festival (a.k.a. The Maze), which starts today at Brooklyn’s Secret Project Robot Gallery and runs through August 4, every Thursday-Saturday (gallery hours are from 2 PM-8 PM, concerts from 8 PM-12 AM). Performers this year include C. Spencer Yeh, Laurel Halo, ZS, Dustin Wong, Noveller, Extra Life, NYMPH, Mick Barr, Bachanalia, Hubble, Amen Dunes, Diamond Terrifier, Miho Hatori’s New Optimism, and many more. Scope out they’s Kickstarter and homepage.
TMT met up with the You Are Here fest organizers to chat about the social implications and logistics of a festival literally embedded in a maze.
Whose initial idea was it to construct the maze?
Laura: Well, there are differing accounts of this.
Sam: I maintain that Laura came to me with the idea of doing the maze in 2006. It was my idea to do a concert setting as a way of getting people to go into the maze. Her idea was to form a line outside and draw people in just because there was a line.
L: And it was based on an experience with a European friend who wanted to go into one of those clubs on 14th St. And, you know, there’s VIP and then the VIP-VIP. And we had some like special pass, and we thought how ridiculous it all was. But my idea started with a red carpet flowing out, with red velvet ropes to draw people in, and once inside, there’d just be room after room after room…
And that’s exactly what you’re trying to do: bring in the community vibe of right-off-the-street and into something, yeah?
S: Well, my initial concern with the idea was people wouldn’t want to line up just because there’s a line of people forming outside. So then I posited the performance festival as a way of definitely getting people into a maze. And the first time we did it, we had it in mid-town Manhattan. And actually it really worked because we had performances every night by friends of ours, and they’d each bring a friend, and so on. Since it was mid-town, there was tons of traffic. People were barreling into it.
Like the new Kanye West shoes?
S: Exactly like the new Kanye West shoes. But all of that was really true to the original spirit of the idea and the festival; we wanted to bring in a lot of people who didn’t know what they were getting into. And one of the people we got was Harvey Keitel. [Laughs]
Patrick: Harvey Keitel endorses the maze.
S: Well, I think that the way in which the experience going into the space relates back to the idea of engaging community is that it levels the playing field in terms of social space, because everybody is having the same experience in the same way.
P: The performer and audience members are both to some extent contending with the space. Since there’s no front or back row, it’s an experience without a center and without an exterior. Performers are, to some extent, just as lost in the maze as the audience members are. So as far as audience and performer participation, there’s an interesting social competent in what this festival tries to do.
And there’ll be projections, sculptures, the maze (of course), performers, lights; will there be more of a concept of found art or art people can bring to the maze itself?
P: Not quite, there will be a series of curated installations by invited artists.
S: And people are invited to just bring themselves. If you put some kind of monolithic, gigantic, delicate thing in the middle of a social ritual night after night for a month, there’s an idea that it’ll be somehow altered by the people visiting the space.
L: And it has been in the past. But we’re trying to make something work aesthetically as it is when we first open the doors.
S: The piece itself is the composite experience of everybody contending with the situation. So, everybody from the gallery owners, curators, producers, performers, audience, journalists: the piece is the composite experience taken across all angles. The maze assembles a circumstance wherein the piece can happen. It creates a situation that everybody is forced to take the same relationship to, and that relationship is “Oh shit, this is happening and it kinda sucks and somehow it’s completely awesome,” and that’s the piece.
How will the projection art be presented?
S: There will be six projectors above the maze. And the walls this year are made from this lattice-work of electrical cables and twine, so the light can travel through the walls.
P: So it’s like an interlocking mesh-work of cable and projected light that creates these V-patterns.
The piece itself is the composite experience of everybody contending with the situation.
And who’s making that?
L: We’re making it.
S: Along with an entire team of builders.
L: And the whole setup is at Secret Project Robot, where gallery/venue covers all the walls with the maze, 360 degrees. So we’re just lucky that the space lends itself to this. And the projections themselves, the base images, will be a video of the maze itself, linked to audio triggers. Basically, it’ll be an illusory space, far from perfect, and digital simulations (related imagery of the maze itself). And it won’t truly be an optical illusion since you can’t walk through the walls themselves. Though, it’s really more of an op-art, with expanding Xs, so the projections will launch right through them. We don’t really know exactly what it’ll look like until we see it completed.
P: It also has the effect of creating a self-contained aesthetic universe wherein projections are reinforcing these boundaries that are already construed by the walls of the maze. The way that alternating artists are installing every week, bands performing, and people moving through will all contend with and emphasize this total structure.
How were the performers selected?
P: We’ve had a whole team of eight curators working on music booking. Just like any other music festival. And this team is just as excited as we are about the project and how the performances will happen.
S: So it’ll be running throughout the month. Thursday-Saturday for four weekends, starting July 12. Each of those days, there’ll be gallery hours between 2-8 PM. Then 8 PM-12 AM will be a show. And the process of music-curating was bringing originally 10 people around the table, and 8 of them turned out to have a really broad call to people’s music to bring and meet what the maze festival is trying to get at aesthetically. The criteria pretty much is (a) everyone is local and (b) who is down to do it.
P: …down to having an openness and receptivity to the singularity of this experience, and what it means to perform in such an extreme environment.
S: But more or less, it’s about whether the musicians are interested in actually going forth and doing the project and performing in it. The musicians who are fit for the festival are the ones who said, “This is awesome. Let’s figure out the details later.” So they chose themselves to be in the festival. And there were hundreds of people who were approached, but a lot of them were saying, “Lemme talk to my manager.” Like, everyone signed on is 100% into what we’re doing here, and their curiosity just continues to feed the art.
P: That’s also what fuels this so well, that there is more excitement behind the performances, rather than your typical hum-drum concert. The performers really have a chance to push themselves in an usual, very atypical performance context, which everyone is excited about.
And within the collaboration perimeters of the festival, you’ll just have P-Higgins over here fingering his guitar, and in the other corner, Daren Ho will be plugging and unplugging his electronics, or…
S: That could happen, since people are free to do what they wish, but it is likely there’ll be sets. And how each person performs is up to the musician. Whether on a stage or however.
P: It’s mostly how the performer contends with the space itself. It’s the same with the sculptors or projection artists. Given how the space is built, the musicians will have to alter their usual ways of playing and setting up, not just to fit inside of the maze, but to bring their work to life in this wild environment.
How do you see the Brooklyn community interacting with this who aren’t familiar with the musicians performing?
P: They’re gonna love it.
S: I agree with Patrick.
There’ll be a bar?
S: There won’t be an open bar or anything. I don’t want to end up on openbars.com, that’s for sure. But there will be a woman making mixed drink potions and leaving them around the maze on random nights. And Secret Project serves drinks.
P: So you might luck out.
Harvey Keitel endorses the maze.
So would you say that’s the BIG surprise for the event?
S: The whole thing is surprise from start to finish.
L: Especially for us.
S: I can’t stress enough: nobody is on the outside of this. Like, if you go to a summer concert or festival, there’s tech guys, engineers, musicians, managers, security, etc…
P: …as well as audience members, and ticket costs and seating, etc. You Are Here flattens all those relations. Everybody is simultaneously part of the same experience. Bugging out in a maze with great music and wild art.
S: Even the people doing tech work or art, music, engineering — the maze is not set up to help them. It’s everyone contesting to do their part in the maze for the maze.
L: To bring it back, the first maze was just for randoms within the arts community on 42nd St. And revolving around the idea of the audience witnessing this. But the second maze happened in Williamsburg, and bands came into play, so that is when we figured out this was something more than just us making a maze, but everyone experiencing the maze itself. And noticing the reaction of the audience helped us make things both more functional and community based.
S: And there was a lot more expectation, especially at Death by Audio, where people are usually coming in looking for straight music. So, people on 42nd were going in from the street to experience a [thing], but Death by Audio people were going in to see a show. Thus, in both experiences, the presence of the maze is what drove both audiences. And you’d expect 42nd St. to be more chaotic, but Death by Audio is where the audience got way more pissed. And the bigger the act, the more pissed people got.
Right. What are you guys bringing to the Berlin experience this year?
L: Well, their space is similar to our space at Secret Project Robot. So we’re going to bring the same walls and beads, same hardware, vending plates — pretty much rebuild it. And the social dynamics are already effecting the project in Berlin because of the city’s likeness to New York’s environment’s interaction with the maze. Again, we can’t tell how it’ll completely be until it’s all over.
P: And we’re getting all local German musicians and artists, so the whole festival there is also more about building an apparatus to highlight music and communities that are already there but in a context that they’re not used to contending with. Rather than importing something from “New York.”
Any super new stuff this year in NYC?
L: There’ll be a sound-throwing aspect. That’s all we can say at the moment.
Should the audience expect to wear anything specific to the event?
P: Black tie.