OPUS Merriweather is an annual art + sound festival approaching its second year in Columbia, MD. The curators, Ken Farmer and Caroline Maxwell of Wild Dogs International, tell us how this kaleidoscopic landscape shifts perspectives and creates new ways of seeing.
Returning to the Woods
“When we encountered the city of Columbia, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the woods that surrounds it, we were immediately intrigued by its history. OPUS is inspired by the ideals that founded Columbia, Maryland in 1967: egalitarian, diverse, and deeply invested in new perspectives for a better future. The artists of OPUS took these ideals and the rich history of Columbia into account when creating site-specific work for the 50-acre Symphony Woods. This land was set aside when the city was founded to give residents access to the kind of reflection only a woods can provide.” — Ken Farmer
Pictured below: Wish Tree – Yoko Ono
“The forest is an intriguing jumping-off point for us because it naturally has a multitude of associations, from being a place of shelter, hiding, and safety to a place of exploration and discovery. Forests make us realize how much is hidden—how much is unknown. We’re interested in what we can learn from the forest as a model for culture and what makes its ecosystem strong. The forest is a place where strength and beauty comes from diversity, collaboration, and a fertile environment. From the micro to the macro, we’re questioning what culture means from the ground up. And ultimately, we’re looking at how the creation of culture within a forest can be a model for culture on a global scale.” — Caroline Maxwell
The curators hope that visitors will find a unique path through the festival, that leads to a sense of wonder. The evening kicks off with Dancorcism led by Debbie Attias, followed by a sunset meditation on the Merriweather Post Pavilion lawn where you can experience food and music from around the world. As night falls, Agnes Denes’ My Manifesto illuminates the 200’ facade of Merriweather Post Pavilion with the opening line of “Working Within a Paradox.” The woods open through Maren Hassinger’s Pink Light installation, and Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree invites you to tie your hopes and dreams to its branches. Farther down the path, Ann Lislegaard’s Owls… Some Animals Never Sleep delivers prophetic aphorisms while Patrick Higgins and Monica Mirabile perform Dossier X inside Matthew Schreiber’s monumental laser sculpture Gemini. Rounding the corner, you’ll encounter AES+F’s Liminal Space Trilogy projected across a fifty-four foot screen and a projection-mapped pyramid titled Ultra Wet – Recapitulation by Tabita Rezaire. Marilyn Minter’s hallucinatory Green Pink Caviar video canopy becomes a point of relaxation before your journey back to the dance party on the Merriweather Lawn. If you follow the resonance of Dead Interval, Eli Keszler’s piano string installation winding through the woods trees, you might encounter Ryan McNamara’s surreal dance performance entitled Picnic before Oneohtrix Point Never’s: MYRIAD concert-scape at the Chrysalis Amphitheater.
Pictured below: Ultra Wet – Recapitulation – Tabita Rezaire
Pictured below: Green Pink Caviar – Marilyn Minter
Pictured below: The Liminal Space Trilogy – AES+F
New Commissions by Celebrated Artists
“OPUS was created to offer a platform for visionary artists to push boundaries, disrupt conventions, and create spaces of provocation and reflection. We channeled these intentions throughout the curation process by commissioning works by a variety of artists from over a dozen countries, working at the vanguard of multidisciplinary practices. The program was designed to raise questions through curiosity and wonder. And by questioning the assumed, new perspectives emerge.” — Caroline Maxwell
OPUS brings together both emerging and established artists who have exhibited at the world’s leading cultural institutions, such as the Guggenheim, MoMA, Venice Biennale, Barbican, and Park Avenue Armory. For one night only, you can experience their work in a unique wooded setting.
Several artists have created newly commissioned works after spending time at the OPUS site of Symphony Woods. “Matthew Schreiber spent several days on site contemplating the woods and seeking inspiration for his laser sculpture,” Ken recalls, “but the night he saw the glowing eyes of a deer in a gentle gully, he said, ‘Okay, this is the spot.’” Other artists were drawn to an object rather than a moment. “We told Ryan McNamara he could pick any location— He soon landed on a picnic table tucked away in the woods. It’s amazing to see someone who has done site-specific commissions for the Guggenheim choose something as ordinary as a picnic table for a stage. That’s the best part for us, to see artists be inspired by the woods to experiment and do something they haven’t done before. And we’re excited to jump off that cliff with them.”
Pictured below: Picnic – Ryan McNamara
Caroline and Ken work closely with artists year-round to help them develop their projects. Some of last year’s commissions went from OPUS to places like MoMA, Red Bull Music Academy Festival, Supersense Festival, FORM Festival, and Pioneer Works. OPUS is having a ripple effect on the community. “And this is something we’re cultivating over time,” says Ken, “We want to collaborate with artists not just leading up to OPUS, but beyond that. We’re making steps towards collaborating with international institutions and organizations to create future partnerships and presentation platforms for their work.”
Finding Your Way
“We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How are we encouraging people to not only think differently about the world around them, but about how they’re navigating that world?’ This is the wayfinding approach. We’re not interested in providing guidance that prescribes the way to go, how you’re supposed to feel, or what something means. There’s enough things in life that control how we think. OPUS is about finding your own way, being a pioneer, and discovering new things off the beaten path. ” — Caroline Maxwell
Pictured below: Gemini – Matthew Schreiber
Pictured below: Oneohtrix Point Never on the Chrysalis Stage
Ken describes OPUS as a “welcoming space to revel in cultural convergence and encounter. It is a collective interrogation of humanity: how we navigate the woods, experience art, and celebrate the power of music to bring us together.” It all comes together for one night where all are welcome to explore our potential to connect and create — Oct. 13 5-11pm at Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods.