The former Jo-Mar factory at 3525 I Street has been vacant for several years now, but this week it's coming back to life like something out of a sci-fi flick as lighting, sound systems and art installations are being moved into the cavernous 120,000-square-foot warehouse near Tioga. It's all for Force Field, a two-day art and music festival in the heart of Kensington's neglected industrial hub.
Conceived by Tim Eades and Joe Bartram as part of the CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia, the event (June 21-22) will showcase 45 installation, performances and musicians from eight states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Earlier this year, the partners launched a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds for the project.
"One of the goals of this project is to give artists the opportunity to activate large industrial spaces before they become developed," says Bartram, who serves as Force Field's curator and director. "By bringing multiple artists from diverse backgrounds, we're excited to see how they transform the space and engage the community."
Force Field uses art as a way to call attention to the potential of spaces in neighborhoods like Kensington in a large-scale way. "Kensington is an intersection of diverse socio-economic demographics," admits Eades. "Our mission is to engage the community in their backyard."
Joe Patitucci, founder and director of Data Garden – a journal, record label and events producer in Philly – has curated both the music and multimedia aspects of this interdisciplinary event, which includes everything from performance and video to sound and sculpture. One of the highlights is a live techno set by King Britt who will be experimenting with biofeedback.
"Plants play synthesizers," says Patitucci. "King Britt's been working with us for a couple of years." Together, they've developed a new riff on an old technology that allows anyone to connect a plant to a synthesizer or computer to listen to the natural biorhythms. "Large tropical plants that will be on the dance floor to control the perimeters of music," he says. People will be able to interact, dance and vibe with them. Patritucci describes the experience as "other worldly."
Other musicians featured during Force Field include Alex Burkat, Hiro Kone and Ryan Todd, as well as Cosmic Morning and Telequanta. Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler will be playing a sunset performance on the roof of the Lo-Mar. Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female acrobatic theatre company, will also showcase aerial stunts amid soaring ceilings.
"Philly is a pretty huge city and it's really easy to get stuck in staying in one neighborhood or staying within an area," says Patitucci. "These kinds of events open up possibilities to explore new space."
While Kensington's once-thriving textiles past can still be found in the footprint of these enormous factories, the neighborhood has also been attracting an arts scene in recent years, despite the fact that, according to Force Field, the neighborhood's unemployment rate is one of the highest in the city at 30 percent.
Force Field hopes to attract more than 1,000 people to the event this weekend to not only showcase the artists, but also the neighborhood's "potential," as they see it. The evening portion of the two-day event is for the 21-and-up set, but there's a secondary, daytime audience for young people between the ages of 14 and 21 who are interested in arts and culture. Included are experimental art installations and information about how they can get more involved with community revitalization this summer. Kids also have an opportunity to go behind the scenes to see how an event like this is created with meet-and-greets with artists.
Local food trucks and breweries will also be serving up specialties and sips through the weekend.
"I don't think I've seen anything quite like this in Philly," says Patitucci, referring to not only the scale of the event, but also the building. "Usually things like this are spread out over a week or at multiple venues."
The factory is being converted into a temporary performance space with a rooftop venue that promises to showcase not only experimental ambient music, but also the Philadelphia skyline at sunset. "That's what's great about putting on shows in nontraditional venues," he says. "You get to play the space in a different way – from curating to performance."