Ten-day arts festival turns Breckenridge into carnival of creativity | SummitDaily.com

Ten-day arts festival turns Breckenridge into carnival of creativity

Australian artist Craig Walsh challenges the way people see art in public spaces. By projecting faces onto trees he seeks to question why humans build monuments and who they honor.

These are Walsh's "Monuments," and they seem to stare back at you. The Aussie describes his traveling digital art project, which is making its U.S. premiere, as a new kind of sculpture.

As the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, one of the town's single biggest signature summertime events, kicks off today, a throng of artists and performers, including Walsh, will take over downtown Breckenridge with a 10-day lineup of events and art installations now through Aug. 20.

The mostly free, multi-arts festival is designed to be an annual celebration of adventure, play and creativity, with a host of extraordinary events in spectacular places across Breckenridge. Inspired by themes of the natural environment and mountain culture, BIFA mixes performances, exhibitions, film screenings, workshops, talks and surprise collaborations with music, dance, film, visual arts and family-friendly entertainment.

For his part, Walsh is using digital technology to project the faces of real people on trees, and his work has been described as haunting and eerie.

The shape of the tree is important, Walsh said ahead of today's opening ceremonies, but every one of his large-scale displays is different and specific to its environment.

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Walsh has already compiled video profiles of three locals — historian Maureen Nicholls, age 75; biking enthusiast Jeff "Westy" Westcott, 55; and dancer Zoe Gallup, 12 — whose faces will be projected on the trees in and around the Riverwalk Center downtown throughout the festival.

The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance is also playing a part, with the group devoted to historic preservation hosting an outdoor lecture and guided tour inspired by Walsh's work and focused on local luminaries who've helped shaped what Breckenridge is today.

Walsh does this by bending expectations with his installations and existing "outside the way we would normally experience art."

The process begins with video portraits. After that, Walsh undertakes "a fairly complicated process" to prepare those portraits to project them on trees. After that he runs tests at the sites, looking for the right oval-shaped trees to become his canvas, before polishing the final edit.

"It's been great to see it in the testing phase," Walsh said of his work for BIFA, adding that "one of the great things about this project" is a town policy that limits the amount of light pollution that fills up the night sky.

As a result, Walsh said he "hasn't had to deal with ambient lighting in the town, and that's quite unique."

Perhaps the best things about his pieces, Walsh said, is there will be no evidence he was ever here once he's gone. That's one of the benefits of projections, in which once turned off, they leave no residue or impression on the space they once occupied.

"Most of my practice is experiential in the sense they are not things you can buy, they're not things you can put in your house, they're not things you can put in a gallery," Walsh said, adding that he seeks to "bypass the conventions and the understandings of how we experience art" with his work that "automatically sets up a dialog" between the viewer and the natural environment.

BIFA's can't-miss offerings

• A 30-piece, psychedelic marching band, Itchy-O, that draws inspiration from Japanese Taiko drumming, Chinese lion dancing, Mexican street processions, ancient esoteric symbology and American drum corps. Music starts at 6 p.m. today by the Riverwalk Center and Itchy-O set to play at 8:30 p.m.

• "Los Trompos," or the spinning tops, is a joyful, interactive art installation by contemporary Mexican designers Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena. It's inspired by the popular children's toy, nature and traditional Latin American design, architecture and folk art. Five of these colorful, large-scale, kid-friendly sculptures will be on display at the Arts District now through October.

• A screening of Charlie Chaplin's 1925 silent comedy, "The Gold Rush," accompanied by the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Riverwalk Center. Tickets are $30-$45 with children getting in for $7 and students with valid IDs for $10.

• "Ants" by Polyglot Theatre, Australia's leading creator of experiential, interactive and installation theatre for children and families, will bring giant insects into a public space for a free mix of roving performance and large-scale interaction with children and adults alike. "Ants" is set for multiple shows, including one each at 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. today through Sunday.

• A return engagement by the Dutch performance troupe Close-Act Theatre with its new street spectacles, "Birdmen" and "PerQ." For this piece of BIFA, large, illuminated pterodactyl-like creatures will descend upon the Blue River Plaza and roam through the streets. "Birdmen" is street theater that features stilt-walkers outfitted as strange, enlightened beings while "PerQ" features a choreographed drumming show with percussionists dressed as 19th century soldiers. "PerQ" is set for performances at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, while "Birdmen" has shows at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 and Aug. 19.

• Violinist, banjo player and neo-folk songstress Rhiannon Giddens, who is considered one of the most promising voices in American roots music, will perform from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Riverwalk Center. Tickets are $35.

• The internationally recognized Australian company Casus Circus puts on its thrilling new acrobatic show, "Driftwood," a performance of seemingly impossible feats of brute strength and flexibility. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 and Aug. 19 and a 2 p.m. matinee Aug. 20, all at the Riverwalk Center.

• BIFA's Trail Mix Series includes 27 free pop-up concerts on three of Breckenridge's most popular hiking trails — Iowa Hill, Illinois Creek and Moonstone — throughout the festival. For a complete schedule of events or to buy tickets for a specific performance, go to BreckCreate.org/BIFA.