Artistic Evolution

Eaux Claires Troix’s art program is focused on interaction

Eric Christenson, photos by Lee Butterworth, Luong Huynh

ART REBORN. The work of Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels (left) and Chuck-U (right) were standouts at Eaux Claire last year. This summer, both artists return to evolve the artistic vision they introduced in 2016.
ART REBORN. The work of Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels (above) and Chuck-U (below) were standouts at Eaux Claire last year. This summer, both artists return to evolve the artistic vision they introduced in 2016.

In the last two iterations of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, the bands were good. OK, they were great. But what truly made the whole shebang unique and magical was the artists – the visual artists, performance artists, sound installation artists, 3D artists – all creating experiential works that were specifically designed to be interacted with.

Whether you’re confessing your sins to a gold-toothed Astronautalis in a small dome tent, or banging a pipe on a musical fence to make a tune, looking down a periscope in the woods to see mini-dioramas underground, or twisting knobs and tweaking frequencies with audio toys wired by Dwarfcraft Devices – Eaux Claires is steadily ramping up the level of audience/artist interaction year after year.

“They’re not just decorations for the festival, you know? One of the whole goals of the art program is specifically to get people in the mindset of an altered reality or a different way of thinking about things. We want people just to come for the weekend and experience what’s happening. We can’t manufacture that experience; we’re just trying to give people the ability to create that for themselves.” – Michael Brown, creative director of Eaux Claires

“They’re not just decorations for the festival, you know? One of the whole goals of the art program is specifically to get people in the mindset of an altered reality or a different way of thinking about things,” said Michael Brown, Eaux Claires creative director. “We want people just to come for the weekend and experience what’s happening. We can’t manufacture that experience; we’re just trying to give people the ability to create that for themselves.”

When the music lineup dropped this spring in a print zine called Troix, it talked about the intentional downsizing of the festival this year, “so that we will all experience more of the festival together,” it read. In year three, there won’t be any action in the field atop the hill; instead, by condensing the explorable grounds, the aim is to nurture that interactive spirit, encouraging fest-goers to be a part of the bigger experience all at once.

With the Eaux Claires Troix art program this year, interaction is the name of game, and it’s all laid out similar to the Troix zine in a keenly developed digital presentation on the festival’s website – aptly called Troix II – where Eaux Claires narrator Michael Perry poetically wrote this about the restructured grounds: “The festival grounds are a dropcloth, intended to catch all the beautiful spatters essential to the larger work. The crumpled papers of creation and do-overs. The wrong note leading to the glorious riff. This is why there are trails to wander. This is why we leave some things to chance. The writer meets the dancer meets the painter and the music grows only more powerful.”

This year, we’re seeing festival mainstays from up the hill like The Banks evolve and grow in a different environment with a venue in the round deep in the woods. We’ll get to experience new works from artists featured at Eaux Claires fests past like Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels and VNESSWOLFCHILD, whose woodsy pieces from last year take on evolved forms this year. Chuck-U will again create an interactive mural with the help of passersby, and Chippewa Valley native Davy Sumner will debut a mechatronic percussion instrument called Eddy Currents.

We’ll get to see tons of wild new ideas play out, including some seriously large-scale sculptures, live painting, murals, dance performances, new stages with new designs, and a “Mom Booth,” where a bunch of real moms (even some of the artists’ moms) will hang out and talk to fest-goers and give hugs and motherly life advice.

Brown talked about how a big goal of the festival is foster “seed projects” with the artists they work with – stuff that gets created specifically for the Eaux Claires festival, but then evolves over time into bigger, more fleshed out works elsewhere. One such project is called “Fluid Process” by Boston based artists The Pickup Music Project (who created the aforementioned musical fence last year) which makes music with falling water. Another is “Tremolos,” a sound installation by Cincinnati creative studio Intermedio where different soundscapes play through rotating fans.

The art program, just like the festival surrounding it, is something that changes and develops and evolves year to year, sometimes drastically. Stop thinking you’ve got this festival pinned down and you know what to expect, because each year is designed to be its own creative experience filled with multitudes of diverse expression. Eventually, Brown said he and the other curators want Eaux Claires to reach a point where they don’t even need to announce the lineup of bands, where they don’t need to market these different aspects, and there’s a mutual trust that people will come for the weekend knowing it’s going to be a one-a-kind artistic experience in the Wisconsin northwoods, no matter who’s playing.

“I want it to stray from being a recognizable music festival. A criticism I would have for myself – and I think the others would agree – is that you look at it and it still looks like a music festival,” Brown said. “I’d like to see us challenge ourselves to create something that transcends that typical experience. I mean, look, let’s be honest, there are enough music festivals in the world. But there are very few experiential, art-centered, creative, community-driven events out there and we want to get closer and closer to doing that.”

To check out the full lineup of artists and artworks, and learn more about what’s in store for Eaux Claires, be sure to check out Troix II, the digital presentation of the art program at www.eauxclaires.com. The festival’s happening June 16 and 17 at Foster Farm in Eau Claire.

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