For FOTA, all of campus is a stage

This year’s Festival of the Arts begins this Saturday with a fashion show and launch party.

By Jessica Sheft-Ason

Hutch Courtyard lay covered in a blanket of white this afternoon in anticipation of the upcoming Festival of the Arts (FOTA). By Saturday, a tent will have popped up in the courtyard to house the art themed festivities throughout the week. Spearheaded by fourth-year FOTA director Bonnie-Kate Walker, the week begins on Saturday with a fashion show launch party and is followed by a week of art installations across campus.

As well as being directed by Walker, FOTA is also supported by Design Director Marie Otsuka, Events Coordinator Adrienne Swan, and six curators. This year’s theme and guiding principle is “Wired.” “We had a lot of installation proposals having to do with a digital, technological theme,” Walker said. “[FOTA] really tracks cultural trends in contemporary art and pop culture, which is true for this year’s ‘network’ motif.”

“One project we have is an augmented reality game that was also funded by the Uncommon Fund that should be really interactive and impressive,” Walker said. Other notable projects include a documentary on the South Side and an installation featuring destroyed microwaves and a truck engine.

Control, a music and dance piece by Jacob Ashpis, is completely controlled by the movement of the dancer. “I used the Arduino platform [an open source piece of hardware], connected sensors to it, used bluetooth for wireless transmission, and ran the data through a music synthesis program called Max/MSP,” Ashpis said. Keeping with the theme of the entire event, Ashpis said he drew inspiration from “Our relationship with technology, the approaching singularity, early electronic composers, and selfishness.”

The fashion show, which showcases ten student designers from around campus, is used to kick off the week of festivities. “Some of our fashion artists for the Launch Party are also getting really creative by using newspapers and maps for their clothing lines,” said Walker.

One of the student designers, fourth-year Ariya Sasaki, is creating a collection that was inspired by the March 11th earthquakes and tsunami in Japan. Sasaki was born in Kyoto and plans for a future job in fashion. “I want to pursue a career in the fair trade fashion industry creating garments that are both beautiful and sustainable,” she said.

Lily Lai, another student designer, said she appreciated being a part of the festival because “FOTA has no rules or themes that you have to conform to, so they allow artists to express themselves however they want.” Titled Collard Greens, her line is “inspired by the ‘50s empire waistline, long skirts and collars, [but] still keeping in line with my need for elegance and detail.”

Designer Boot Camp (DBC) director Allison Wu has also been teaching a handful of students the basics of design and sewing throughout the year. The DBC designers will have their final show at the fashion launch party on Saturday. The boot camp, which is co-sponsored by MODA, has included weekly sewing lessons taught by Wu as well as workshops from Chicago based designers Anastasia Chatzka and Anna Fong.

Building a sense of community has been a main focus of FOTA this year, resulting in much collaboration with other RSOs on campus. UC Dancers, Maya, Off-Off, University Theatre, and Sliced Bread are just some of the organizations participating and showcasing installations.

“[FOTA] is unique because it brings together artists from across disciplines who normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to showcase their art,” Ashpis said. “It guarantees a receptive audience, or some audience at the very least.”

FOTA’s goals for the festival have set it apart from other arts organizations on campus by not just installing art in a single location, but rather peppering them across campus. Installations range from outdoor locations like Hutch Courtyard, Botany Pond, and the Main Quads to indoor spaces like Harper, Regenstein Library, Cobb Hall, and the Social Sciences Building. “FOTA reaches a much larger community by exposing the campus to a week of visual, performance, and installation art created and engineered by their peers,” Walker explained.

Many students appreciate the randomness and excitement when they see art in spots that were otherwise bare. “It’s nice to take a pause from a busy schedule just to admire some sort of art or make art and it’s easy to do that here. Plus, we pretty much live and study in a gigantic piece of art; you don’t see many schools built like our University,” Lai said.

It was this sort of spontaneity and surrounding creativity that first inspired Walker. “I got into FOTA three years ago when I noticed that someone replaced one of the portraits of University presidents in Hutch Commons with a bright orange canvas,” Walker said. “It’s so fun to just run into projects outside or on my way to class; it reminds me how quirky and creative people can be if given the right opportunity.”