NORRIDGEWOCK -- A flowing canopy of pink and orange plastic streamers, measuring about 20 feet by 30 feet and suspended with bright pink string between trees, is the project of two recent art school graduates traveling the country and exhibiting their work at festivals.
"The space was created to forget about the outside world and experience something more emotional or spiritual," said Dana Lynn Harper, 26, as she walked through the forest with a spool of hot-pink string tucked into her flannel shirt.
Harper and her boyfriend, Gabe Kenney, who are graduates of the Pennsylvania State University School of Visual Arts, are touring the country, displaying their art at festivals. Their most recent stop is the Great North Festival in Norridgewock, where they spent Wednesday afternoon and most of Thursday installing "Bloom bloom," Harper's senior project for her master's degree in sculpture.
The festival, which begins today at Last Breath Farm and runs through Sunday, features 60 musical artists and 25 visual ones, mostly made up of electronic and hip-hop bands and modern geometrical artists who have installed their work in ways that make use of the 400-acre farm's natural setting.
For Harper and Kenney, it's one stop on a tour of small and lesser-known festivals along the East Coast and into the Midwest.
Since graduation in the spring, the duo, who together go by the name Parachute Troupe, have been to Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Philadelphia and most recently Kentucky for a festival called Boomslang.
"By the time we finished up all our projects last year, it seemed like most job applications were closed. This was a good alternative to going back home and doing nothing," said Kenney, 28.
"Bloom bloom" had its debut installation at the Zoller Gallery at Penn State and since then has been installed both indoors and outdoors, Harper said. She said she had never been to a festival before Parachute Troupe's tour, but the experience has opened her up to new ways of exhibiting art.
The piece, which is made of plastic construction flagging tape and chicken wire, has survived thunderstorms and provided shade for festivalgoers pitching hammocks, she said.
On Thursday, the pair had two ladders and a 6-foot stick that they were using to prop up and hang the piece.
Harper said the festival provides an open space where people are looking to experience the things she created her piece around -- emotions and spirituality.
"It's a totally different kind of person than who would look at it in a gallery. In a gallery, people are asking 'What is it? What does it mean?'" she said.
This is the Great North festival's first year, although Tim Rogers, 54, the ninth-generation owner of Last Breath Farm, said he has been hosting events there since 1997, when his 10-year-old daughter was burned badly in a cooking accident and he wanted to raise money for Shriners Hospital for Children.
Since then, festivals have come and gone. In the past, Rogers said, he has been disappointed with the negative light cast on the festivals by neighbors and the news media -- mostly because of some noise and drinking problems more than drugs, he thinks. Somerset County is home to several pro-marijuana festivals, including three annual festivals at Harry Brown's Farm in Starks and others organized by activist Don Christen in Harmony.
"There are always going to be troublemakers. Some of my neighbors think I am the worst, but by having this festival I'm bringing more people into town than anything else," Rogers said.
Norridgewock Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said because of prior activities, the town has a mass-gathering ordinance that stipulates that any outdoor gathering of 1,000 or more people requires a permit from the town and the state Department of Health and Human Services.
She said any past complaints the town received have been mostly about noise, and there have been few other problems with the festivals. Part of the mass-gathering ordinance requires that noise levels be monitored, she said.
Chris Cote, 30, executive producer of Kind Mind Productions, is the producer of this year's festival and was subcontracted as a stage manager for an event there last year. He said he hopes to put on a different show this weekend.
"No one's been able to really knock it out of the park. We really want this to work," said Cote, 30, of Mount Vernon.
Rogers, who has worked as a concert security guard and toured with Metallica, said the scene has outgrown him, and although he has lost money hosting festivals, he continues to do it because he thinks there are few people who have the land and are willing to do it.
"Shows should be well produced, not underproduced," said Cote. "Attendance depends on things like having amenities available, having a large staff to provide security. When things like that are overlooked for reasons of making more money, you have lots and lots of incidents." Cote wouldn't elaborate on what some of the problems with the previous festival were.
This year's main event is Allyson and Alex Grey, husband and wife visual artists who create psychedelic paintings, geometrical configurations of unpronounceable letters rooted in Hinduism.
The main stage, called The Neighborhood, is being managed by Rick Kidson, co-creator of BelTek, an electronic music festival that was held in Belmont between 2003 and 2012 but discontinued this year.
The music headliner is Beats Antique, a world fusion and electronic music group formed in 2007 in conjunction with Miles Copeland, former manager of The Police. Other major acts include RJD2, known for their creation of the "Mad Men" theme song "A Beautiful Mine," and Papadosio, which blends electronic and jam band beats. Cote said art is as important to the festival as the music.
"We're really stressing the art installations. The event itself is really immersive. You won't just be walking from one stage to another; you'll literally be walking in a well-engineered adventure land," Cote said.
"Bloom bloom" is part of that adventure land, described by Harper as an "ever changing" exhibit that is displayed a little differently in each place it travels.
As an artist, Harper said festivals in general have opened up her mind and exposed her to a different audience in a rewarding way.
"It's enjoyed in a different way here than it would be in a gallery. That's the best part of creating something -- when you can see people just enjoy it," she said.
Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
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