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January 21, 2016

A giant, kinetic tree will overtake Kimmel Center for PIFA 2016

Plus, Kimmel Center announces additional programming

The Arts PIFA
Kinetic Tree Mimi Lien Mimi Lien/PIFA

A mock-up of The Kinetic Tree, designed by 39-year-old set designer Mimi Lien. It will be on display in the Kimmel Center's plaza throughout the 2016 Philadelphia International Festival of Art.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Kimmel Center announced the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2016's sculptural installation for its plaza will be a towering tree that takes up the vertical space of the building, titled "The Kinetic Tree."

The interactive, modernist tree sculpture, built entirely with wooden two-by-fours, is designed by New York-based artist Mimi Lien, who also designed the recreation of the Eiffel Tower for PIFA 2011. Tyler Micoleau will head lighting design, with sound design led by Nick Kourtides. The tree is expected to "transform" twice daily through live performances directed by Kimmel Center Artistic Director Jay Wahl and performed by local artists. 

The concept for the tree, Lien explained at the press conference, is to showcase one of nature's most basic natural resources for building -- meant to complement the festival's overarching theme of "We are what we make."

"When Jay [Wahl] came to me with the curatorial vision for the festival -- materials -- I instantly thought, ‘Wood, for thousands of years, has been one of the most ubiquitous natural resources, and the thing particular to wood is it has always been the thing we use to do one of our most basic human activities: creating shelters, civilization," Lien said.

"And I also think it’s a playful representation of this endless cycle of making and growing: A tree in a forest gets built into a two-by-four, and then we use those two-by-fours to build a sculpture of a tree," she added.

Lien, who's previously done work for Pig Iron Theatre and The Wilma Theater, told PhillyVoice the interactive elements will include a tunnel-like entrance that begins at the building's Spruce Street entrance, platforms for kids to play on, a bridge to discover propped over a reflecting pool and audio elements such as the sound of woodpeckers emitted through holes in two-by-fours.

"I want people to feel a combination of wonder, but also be tickled -- charmed," Lien said.

The sculpture will be on display for the duration of the festival, which runs from April 8 through April 23. 

Vincent Muteau/PIFA

Also announced at the press conference was that Rhiannon Giddens, of the "Carolina Chocolate Drops," will headline the festival's April 6 gala, alongside a French performance-art group. Additionally, it was revealed that "Article 13" -- the sand-and-fire installation that is perhaps the most anticipated feature of this year's festival -- will take place at Penn's Landing during the first three days of the festival.

Other events announced, to name just a few, include these locally created performances among the festival's 60 in total:

Philadanco's "Global Artistry," consisting of PIFA 2016 theme-specific dances put together by Jamaican, Filipino, Vietnamese and American choreographers.

The Clay Studio's "Stand," which is a reclaimed wood installation covered in wet clay, created in collaboration with the Center for Art in Wood. Attendees are given the opportunity to apply the clay and create a "primeval forest."

The Barnes Foundation's atrium will host "My Soul's Shadow"; the museum will work with Chicago film production company "Manual Cinema" to create a story based on Spanish poems -- meant to serve as an accessory to the Barnes' upcoming Picasso exhibit. The performance will essentially be an elaborate shadow-puppet show that combines live arts with filmmaking.

You'll also notice the fountains at Rodin Museum, Penn Museum and Magnolia Garden overtaken during various days for underwater performance art, put on by French group Aquacoustique.

“My dream goal is somebody comes to at least three projects," Wahl, who curated much of the festival, told PhillyVoice. "Then you have three artists' perspective on [our relationship with nature]. If you just see one thing it will be delightful and wonderful, but you'll only get one way into it."

PIFA 2016 is only the third occurrence of the festival, which was partly inspired by Charleston's Spoleto Festival. An attendance total of 300,000 is anticipated this year; meanwhile, Kimmel Center President and CEO Anne Ewers said the first two festivals brought $79.3 million into the regional economy and nearly $6 million in state and local taxes.

Former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, who is largely credited with the creation of the Avenue of the Arts and the Kimmel Center, was in attendance to reflect on the evolving significance of the festival.

“One of the best things about being a retired public official is you often get to see some of the things you hoped would happen, that you were a little bit of a catalyst for, take shape," Rendell started, referring to the Kimmel Center at large and PIFA. "And this certainly is taking shape wonderfully.

"If you’re in the arts and cultural community, I think it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way, baby.”