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Iowa City artist bringing outdoor video festival to downtown walls this weekend

Open Air Media Festival will be Friday and Saturday

This project still is from #x201c;Impermanence,#x201d; by Daniel Fine and Dana Keeton, with music by Loop 2.4.3. The vid
This project still is from “Impermanence,” by Daniel Fine and Dana Keeton, with music by Loop 2.4.3. The video will be projected outside the Iowa City Press Co-op during Friday and Saturday’s free Open Air Media Festival in downtown Iowa City. (Courtesy of Open Air Media Festival)
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The moon and stars will have two hours of competition Friday and Saturday nights.

The inaugural Open Air Media Festival will light up walls around downtown Iowa City with video projections from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., as well as soundscapes broadcast live over KRUI 89.7 FM radio and online at KRUI.fm. It’s a free walk-up, bike-up, drive-up event, requiring masks and social distancing from other visitors as well the participating artists.

The festival is a pilot project from Public Space One, also known as PS1, an artist-run nonprofit with several facets in several sites, including the Media Arts Co-op (MAC). Housed in the former PATV space at 206 Lafayette St., the MAC is a community resource center for video, audio and new media arts, housing a video production studio, podcast studio, editing bays and a community event room.

The MAC is especially dear to Zen Cohen of Iowa City, a video artist, educator at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, PS1 board member and the Open Air festival curator. She brought the festival idea with her from San Francisco, where she lived and worked for 18 years before moving with partner Drew Cameron to his hometown of Iowa City two years ago.

“The energy behind the impetus for this (event) was bringing some light into our lives,” Cohen said. “It’s been a really hard year all around.”

The notion goes back even further, to her student days at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, where she participated in a projection event titled “The Illuminated Corridor” on walls outside the school.

“Once or twice a year, they shut down a city block, and there would be something like 50 projectionists and sound artists and musicians working collaboratively. We would all be projecting at same time on this city block, literally transforming the urban landscape with projected video and sound art,” she said.

“I participated in this event several times in the early stages of my being a video artist, and I think that experience was really formative for me, in the sense that it helped me to break the screen, so to speak, and to really think expansively about the possibilities of the moving image, and breaking away from that image of the frame. From there I continued on, exploring video projection specifically as part of my art practice.

“That experience definitely inspired the Open Air Media Festival.”

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The Iowa City event will feature four site-specific projected installations, as well as a mobile projection unit that will travel to various sites, all by artists who live, study or work locally.

Among the offerings is “Impermanence,” a collaboration between new media/video artist Daniel Fine, who teaches at the University of Iowa, and his partner, still photographer Dana Keeton. Shown on the north side of PS1’s IC Press Co-op at 225 N. Gilbert St., the piece features live mandala creation, projection mapping and real-time video, with music by percussion ensemble Loop 2.4.3.

Also on the program are “The Word for Wisconsin is Wetlands,” part science fiction, part experimental documentary exploring the relationship between nature and the state; a video-poem titled “The Lovers Are the Audience Who Watch”; and “Performance a Day,” a series of 100 performance videos created from March 1 to June 8, considering time, ecological and cultural erosion, and grief.

The festival provides a way for artists to keep connecting with community, even during this time when so many doors remain closed and so many events have been canceled by the pandemic.

“I’ve had the idea in back of my mind since COVID hit, and since I started working more seriously with PS1 and the MAC, the idea kept getting louder and louder and louder,” Cohen said. “Over the summer, especially in June, things just got so intense, I felt it was really important as an artist and a community member to respond to the times and provide a space where we can work collaboratively and safely, as well as activate our community.”

The event came together quickly, and with a $2,000 matching grant from the Iowa City Public Art Program, participating artists will receive a stipend.

But viewers won’t see Cohen’s projections on display. Working behind the scenes is where her interests lie with this event.

“I think if you curate something, you shouldn’t put your own work in it,” she said. “I’m more excited about creating spaces for other artists.”

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And she’s excited for the future of digital and art projections, embraced through classes she and Fine are teaching. With that growth in interest and academic acceptance, she also expects the Iowa City festival to be even bigger next year — and to keep growing — expanding with a call-out for participants.

“I think next year it’ll be really exciting to see,” Cohen said. “I think it’s going to be much bigger, with more time and more planning.”

But she’s not stopping there. She not only wants the art to bring people downtown, she also wants to take the art into neighborhoods, collaborating with residents to create content that would be projected where they live.

It took a leap of faith to get her here, but she’s happy to live in a city that embraces the arts.

“I was definitely surprised by this area. I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said, when she first visited with her partner, founder of Combat Paper, which turns military uniforms into handmade paper. “I was looking around and I’m like, ‘It’s really nice here — I could live here.’”

And now that she does live here, she’s determined to keep connecting artists and community — especially in these unsettling times.

“The intention was to create an accessible art experience,” she said of the festival. “We can’t gather inside to have these communal art experiences, but we need to have we need to have these experiences in our lives, just to help lift us up.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Open Air Media Festival

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• When: 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; live sound broadcast KRUI 89.7 FM and online at KRUI.fm

• Where: Downtown Iowa City

• Schedule: 8:30 p.m. Mobile Site 1: Stuff Etc (side wall in parking lot), 851 Highway 6 E; 8:50 p.m. Jake Jones: MAC Lab Media Arts Co-op, 206 Lafayette St.; 9:10 p.m. Mobile Site 2: Elrays Live and Dive, alley between Dubuque and Linn streets; 9:30 p.m. Anais Duplan: Back of Public Space One, 229 N. Gilbert St.; 9:50 p.m. Caitlin Mary Margarett: PS1 front porch; 10:10 p.m. Dan Fine and Dana Keeton: Iowa City Press Co-op, 225 N. Gilbert St.

• To view: Walk up, bike up or drive up; wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance from artists and other viewers or watch from inside your vehicle

• Cost: Free

• Details: publicspaceone.com/openair

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