Festival season is upon Western North Carolina, but the quirkiest of our festivals is already behind us. The eighth annual “(Re)Happening,” on the grounds of the former Black Mountain College, drew hundreds March 31 to listen, touch, explore and experience.
The festival, put on by Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, pays homage to the college’s history by inviting artists and collaborations that defy categorization or interpretation.
“Many of the artforms are new to me. That’s not what I grew up with,” Joanna Perkinson said while roaming between installations and performances.
“(Re)Happening” stems from the “happenings” that made Black Mountain College such a groundbreaking environment between the 1930s and ‘50s. John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem deKooning and other New York artists descended here to teach, study, collaborate and indulge new artistic impulses and directions.
“I don’t necessarily understand what it’s trying to say,” Perkinson said with a laugh, noting one piece she just emerged from. “I guess it’s frustrating.”
The vocal group Roomful of Teeth were the festival’s marquee artists, but where they and others offered sit-down, static experiences, the most memorable were those people could stumble upon in hidden rooms and along patches of grass and beach.
On the porch of a dorm-styled cabin, visitors donned headphones connected to iPods and followed instructions for how to move and relate to one another.
“I didn’t necessarily know whether I should be trusting the words in my head, the voice in my head because I didn’t give it an authority,” said a woman still wearing the sparkled, cordless headphones of the exhibition.
“I just put the headphones on and agreed to participate in the activity, and all of a sudden I’m doing whatever it tells me,” she said. “And I didn’t know what it would say next."
Further up the campus, Rhona Eve Clews set up near a small lake to help visitors make photos without any form of camera, instead using lake water and objects along the shoreline to create a sort of blue-hued negative.
“It’s almost like the lake has images of its own or the paper, the materials, have images of their own, and what we’re doing is activating that process,” Clews said. “With much of my work, I’m often interrogating the very nature of the photograph. I don’t trust it as a two-dimensional object, and I’m trying to get beneath it.”
Crista Cammaroto and her collaborators from Charlotte laid out magnolia, redbud, daffodil leaves, burnt wood and other springtime folliage on the ground to create what they called an “equinoctal clock.” A few times during the day, they performed a short movement piece with the clock as a stage piece.
“I want people to come away with a rearrangement of the Earth and the things that surround them,” Cammaroto said. “If we’re doing our clock performance, I want them to contemplate how slow we are moving to change the environment.”
Derek and Denise Dominy are no strangers to contemporary art. They’re major backers of Revolve, the art and performance space in Asheville’s Ramp Studios. As they roamed “(Re)Happening,” they imagined how this very environment inspired Cage, Cunningham and other titans of their day.
“As you’re walking around the grounds, you’re almost kind of cleansed, and it kind of rejuvenates you to see the next thing, because you’re in this peaceful, beautiful area,” Derek Dominy said. “I can see how all these people from New York just completely got inspired and were so prolific.”
As they trekked from one installation to the next, Perkinson and her festival companion, Erin Dickey, talked about the festival’s larger impact.
“What’s interesting to me about contemporary art is that, when it’s done well, it helps start conversation,” Dickey said. “You’re not necessarily supposed to come to some great answer, but instead you’re supposed to have some sort of engagement.”
“Like a good novel,” Perkinson added.
“Yeah, it’s a journey,” Dickey said.
“If you think about it or it haunts you,” Perkinson said, “it was good.”