Downtown video, word festivals play well together
The First National Bank building on Bank Row was the venue for the video installations of five artists including a large projection on a wall. The 4th Annual Brick and Mortar International Video Art Festival offered another opportunity to see unusual art in unusual places in Greenfields Downtown.
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Greenfield writer Don Fisher reads from his works on Saturday afternoon at the Solar Store , one of the venues for the Greenfield Annual Word Festival, or GAWF.
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GREENFIELD — The weekend’s spoken word and video festivals led people not only around town, but to their own conclusions.
Friday and Saturday, two dozen downtown locations played host to two separate, but complementary events — the Greenfield Annual Word Festival and the Brick and Mortar International Video Art Festival.
They happened in venues both likely and obscure, from coffee shops, book stores, and screening rooms, to the hollowed-out former First National Bank and Trust, Hattapon’s Thai Kitchen and the Solar Store.
The readers ranged from published author and nationwide reader Maria Luisa Arroyo, to those just starting out.
“This is the second time I’ve read to an audience,” said William R. Hilary, 28, after a reading at World Eye Bookshop Saturday. “(Friday night) was my first.”
Though he’s been writing poetry for the last five years, he said he’s found it easier to do since he moved to Greenfield from New York City last year.
“It’s a real rat race in New York, you have to work double jobs just to pay rent. There’s no time to be a writer.”
He’d lived in New York for 10 years, and moved there from London, England, at 16, though he spent his first five years in Ireland.
He said he’s getting to like it around here.
“It’s a good place to grow, and there’s a strong arts community. It’s not as cutthroat as the city.”
He said he got a lot of good feedback from listeners and other readers during the festival.
While dozens of poets and writers used words to lead their audiences to images, the video artists used imagery and sound to bring the viewers to their messages.
Nineteen video installations brought several downtown locations to life. Some came with a bit of guidance, like Alison M. Kobayashi and Christopher Allen’s “Defense Mechanisms.” A filmed performance of Kobayashi’s one-woman show was prefaced as an exploration of fear. The performance blended Kobayashi’s live actions with pre-recorded clips featuring herself and other actors.
Others, like Cristof Migone’s “Hit Maker,” let the audience interpret the art for themselves. In it, the artist traveled through Toronto, Canada, and gave a microphone to several subjects, with a simple instruction: bang it on a surface 100 times, at their own tempo.
One video, shown at the Arts Block, looked like a slideshow of stills to the unattentive eye. Artist Adad Hannah posed while his live audience sat motionless in front of a mirror for “Performance/Audience/Remake.”
“I was watching it, and was a bit shocked when I saw someone blink,” said Jessica Star, of Greenfield.
Watch Hannah’s video long enough, and you’d see someone breathe out of the corner of your eye, drawing focus to that part of the screen. Then, on the other side, someone else may drop their shoulders slightly, bringing your attention there. By the time the eye reached either, the subject would be still again, leaving the viewer to wonder if they’d seen any movement at all.
As people shuffled in and out of the former First National Bank to watch the five videos playing there, Star made some art of her own. She carried her camera and tripod through the crumbling bank, taking candid shots of the unsuspecting audience.
“I’ve come to the festival each year, and I thought, ‘why not enjoy it the way that I do best, through the lens of a camera,’” said Star, a professional photographer.
She wasn’t alone; flashbulbs illuminated the bank like a lightning storm, as people took out cameras, smartphones and iPads to capture the bank’s fading beauty. As always, a big part of the festival’s draw was the usually off-limits locations that hosted videos. It’s not every day that you can poke around the old bank, or the nigh-abandoned Abercrombie building, or the forgotten rooms on the second floor of Hope and Olive.
Saturday’s weather was quite conducive to the events; the warm fall afternoon seemed to have been ordered up just for the walkable festivals. As the sun went down and took the mercury with it, volunteers at a concessions tent on the Town Common could barely keep up with the demand for hot cider.
Local businesses got a boost from the foot traffic. People poked around stores and crowded into restaurants between screenings and readings, the free festivals bringing plenty of cash to town.
“It’s good to see the area thriving like this,” said Star.