Open Air Media Festival to illuminate Iowa City

In its first year, Public Space One will light up Iowa City this weekend with a series of video projections created by local media artists.



Josie Fischels, Arts Editor

Over the weekend, the walls of buildings throughout Iowa City will become canvases for projected artwork.

Public Space One’s very first Open Air Media Festival will light up different areas of the city from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The free, bike-friendly event invites viewers to walk up, drive up, and follow along as video projections created by local artists are displayed at various locations throughout the night. Masks and social distancing will be required.

Zen Cohen, the event’s curator, participated in similar projects when she lived and went to college in California. She brought the idea with her when she moved to Iowa City with her partner two years ago.

As a video artist, assistant professor of media arts at Coe College, and new member of the PS1 board, Cohen said she saw the project as a chance to bring people together safely through art while supporting the local art community who have lost opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really have a desire to create more art opportunities for local artists here, and not just art opportunities, but also ways for artists to get paid. That’s really important for me,” Cohen said.

While the event itself is free, contributing artists will be paid thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Iowa City Public Art Program.

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Throughout the night, four site-specific locations and two “mobile sites” will feature the video art of local artists by projecting onto walls, through windows, and into alleys. Simultaneously, the sounds of the project will be aired by KRUI on 89.7 FM.

Cohen said she hopes to use the project to “activate” the local community.

“We walk down these streets of our neighborhoods, we live in this town, and sometimes we don’t notice these spaces that we walk through, they become sort of our everyday. And so what happens when we walk down the street and all of a sudden there’s a projector there, there’s a moving image?” she said. “That space becomes activated, it becomes enlivened.”

KRUI Producing Director Jake Jones will also be one of the artists featured at the festival. A third year MFA student in intermedia within the school of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa, Jones will feature two works, The Word for Wisconsin is Wetlands and Wrestling Moves.

The Word for Wisconsin is Wetlands is experimental in nature. It is made up of abstract video footage taken on a camping trip Jones took with their partner over the summer in the Badger State’s northern marshes.

“I didn’t even know there were wetlands in Wisconsin,” Jones said. “But we were looking for a place that wouldn’t be too far and we managed to find this beautiful, pretty much isolated, lake. This little campsite — right on these wetlands — and it was absolutely beautiful.”

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For Daniel Fine, an assistant professor in the UI Theatre Department, the Open Air Media Festival meant an opportunity to continue creating digital art after he and his wife Dana Keeton’s residency was canceled because of the coronavirus.

“It seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “We had the interest and then sort of were working on some ideas about doing a piece and also have access to equipment. So here we are. We’re happy to be part of it.”

Fine and Keeton’s project will use a total of three projectors to produce their piece, Impermanence, which will feature live mandala-making, projection-mapping, and live video performance in a short 20-minute finale for the event.

“I think that this is a really great opportunity for PS1 in the local art scene and town,” Fine said. “This is a great public art project. It’s a nice way for audiences who haven’t been able to congregate traditionally as we do in venues and see performing arts to have an art gallery or a theater outside.”

Cohen said she hopes the project continues to expand in future years.

“I’m just excited. This is the first year we’re doing this and I’m just excited to see how it’s going to grow, so we can maybe, two to five years from now, we can have 50 projections happening throughout the street over a week or a weekend or a month or something,” she said.

Cohen added that she’d like to expand the project in other ways, as well, to make it accessible to more communities beyond the Northside.

“I think what I would like to see happen in the future is that we have artists in community teams that are working in collaboration with each other, so that we’re able to create immersive, site-specific media installations in many neighborhoods throughout the Iowa City area, so it’s not fully cloistered to the Northside just downtown,” she said. “But so that other neighborhoods are engaged and have an opportunity to participate as well as create media to be projected and experienced in their own neighborhood.”

For artists like Fine, sharing art through digital media can mean endless possibilities.

“More things are possible through the use of video and technology,” he said. “I mean, it makes things more complicated and certainly not necessarily obvious, but it opens up the possibilities of imagination to be transported to other worlds or other points of view kind of instantaneously.”