Rows of tiki torches threw off smoke and flame as sunlight filtered through the trees of The Watermill Center’s grounds. A throbbing bass tone — coming from one of the art pieces — lent a cinematic soundscape to the night. Guests filtered in, stopped to grab a glass of wine, an oyster as they moved across the grounds. It was Saturday, July 31, the first night of The Watermill Center’s “CROSSROADS” summer festival, led by artist Carrie Mae Weems in collaboration with The Watermill Center’s founder, Robert Wilson, which continues this weekend.
The festival is a re-imagining of the center’s traditional annual benefit.
“Carrie Mae Weems, at the time, had been working on a large exhibition with many different artists that were coming together. I think she just started pulling ideas from what she was creating and it started to unfold in terms of who we wanted to bring, why, what was important about bringing these artists together?” Elise Herget, managing director of the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation, said in an interview. “And a lot of it was addressing the current moment and seeing the need for healing and hope and ritual around this healing process, too.”
The event featured art by Robert Wilson, Laurie Lambrecht, and Paul Thek and two interconnected live performances as well as an exhibition of Minneapolis Protest Murals from last year, curated by Leesa Kelly of Memorialize the Movement, Noah Khoshbin and House of Trees.
As visitors left the village-like structure of the protest murals, they came upon “A Hole in the Sky,” a music and dance performance by artists Laurie Anderson and the Shinnecock Nation’s Shane Weeks, with dancers Kelly Dennis and Denise Silva-Dennis. Anderson played an electric violin behind a table of computers and synthesizers as Weeks, Dennis and Silva-Dennis moved between oblong rocks among the trees. Weeks played a drum, sang, and spoke of the hole in the sky where his ancestors live, and how they speak to him. The performance was designed to act in concert with “Full Circle,” just a few meters away, in which Stewart Hurwood played the guitars of Anderson’s late husband, musician Lou Reed, in a sonic installation. The 12 guitars and 12 amplifiers created feedback and drones that could be manipulated by moving the instruments around.
The “CROSSROADS” festival continues on August 7 and 8, with music, video installation work, and other art. A non-exhaustive list of the artists involved includes Kenyon Adams, Arooj Aftab, Kyle Bass, Hoesy Corona, Marcelle Davies-Lashley, Vinson Fraley, Francesca Harper, Craig Harris, Nona Hendryx, Vijay Iyer, Daryl Johns, David Lang and So Percussion, Moor Mother, Kimberly Nichole, Vernon Reid, Resistance Revival Chorus, Carl Hancock Rux, Tyshawn Sorey, Basil Twis.
“Especially for this festival, and [in] contrast to our fundraisers in past years, we were really trying to make it accessible: so having it over three different days, having a lower-price ticket. In the past, we had an artist residency that really supported what we were doing and it was an international summer program, so we couldn’t get anybody in [this year],” Herget said. “And that changed the nature of who is here. Who are the communities that we want to work with that are around us? And that grew to Carrie and her community, Laurie Anderson, Shane and the Shinnecock Nation.”
“CROSSROADS” runs through August 8. Tickets available at watermillcenter.org. The Watermill Center is at 39 Water Mill Towd Road in Water Mill. The grounds are open to visitors between dawn and dusk.