art in the city:  Randall's Island

electric zoo at nyc's 6th boro 

Conception Arts Founder, Rachel Wilkins, brings to life the wild and visionary three-day festival of electronic music at Randall's Island.

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In my quest to see more alternative events incorporating the visual arts, I found myself at Electric Zoo over Labor Day weekend. A hedonistic, electronic music festival that boasted superstar DJ’s such as Deadmau5 and Eric Prydz. There were pop-up vendors supplying everything from Club Tees to ‘designer’ ice cream.  There was even a‘glitter bar’ where you could bedazzle yourself into the festival spirit.

The 3-day event took place on Randall’s Island. In an ode to NYC’s 5 boroughs, the Electronic Dance Music “EDM” event pitched itself as the “6th Boro” – a place where you could lose your inhibitions and connect with fellow kindred spirits.  The festival’s centerpiece, and main stage, was a gigantic installation of an abstract elephant, in keeping with the festival’s ‘zoo’ theme. The impressive structure was conceived by Tim Van de Bungelaar, of 250K Design, a European based company that specializes in large-scale event structures.

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I met with Creative Director, Jeff Wright, the man responsible for curating the overall visual aspects of this vast event.  Wright shared with me the importance of creating an environment that works for both day and night hours.  “A lot of music festivals put the emphasis on the visual experience of the stage at night, but there are so many hours of daylight where the stage is viewed.  We treat the open-air stages like giant sculptural art pieces which in turn act as a canvas for the light operators and VJs.” 

While video and electronic music go hand-in-hand, Wright believes there is value in presenting something additional to the guest’s visual experience. In fitting with the “6 Boro” theme, Wright paid homage to New York’s gritty graffiti culture. He commissioned a futuristic New York City subway car to greet guests near the main entrance.

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The interactive installation featured a graffiti-inspired mural curated by local duo, Jonathan Neville and Denton Burrows, of “Dripped on Productions.”  The duo brought in a number of local street artists who worked collaboratively on intertwining, colorful murals.   One such artist, Brooklyn-based Vince Ballentine, said of his enjoyable experience -

“ I like the interactive element of painting live at an event like this. People are taking it all in. I even had a few that wanted to get involved, asking if they could paint.”

Another local street artist, Resa, formerly of Christies, discussed her participation in the event:

“Murals are such a great way to get your work seen. I’m really happy to see businesses like this (EZoo) investing in street artists like me, and giving me this opportunity. Street art has been seen as a low-bro art form for so long. It’s encouraging to see it getting the credit it deserves”

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It seemingly takes a village of creative minds to pull-off something of this magnitude.  To learn what it takes I asked Wright his thoughts on collaboration, “[I]t's critical.  One person can't take on all of the visual aspects of a festival of this size on their own. Some areas call for one person, or team, to own that area, from start to finish, and other times, you have to have people, sometimes with different specialties, working together.”  After having put in all the hard work Wright’s hope was that “people who come to Electric Zoo take away lots and lots of happy memories with them.  Whether they are in awe by the sheer spectacle of the sound, lights and special effects, watching graffiti artists fill a blank wall in front of their eyes, or high-fiving a 12-foot-tall metallic gorilla as it bounds through the crowd.”

Hats off to Jeff and the E-Zoo crew, they certainly succeeded in enhancing my experience and I am sure that of many other revelers.  I look forward to seeing what this creative collective have up their sleeves for 2018.