Saturday morning, I was looking out over a field of phallic neon totem poles, some sprouting from beds of tiny flickering LED lights, when an acquaintance approached and offered her thoughts: “I have been staring at these all day. It feels like the end of the world. I was crying. Not because I’m sad, but because I just did acid for the first time in my life and I’m about to get a PHD and I realize I have never seen anything so beautiful. Actually, I think they’re penises. Which is really great and important, you know?”
And then, over the horizon, a trio of actual penises came into view, as a group of older nudist campers hiked up the hill to a soundtrack of distant electronic music. I didn’t consume any mind-expanding substances, and I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to—Fields Fest is already one of the most surreal experiences to take in.
This last weekend was the second iteration of the thus-far-biennial Fields Fest, a weekend of music, performance art, installations, theater, and more at a campground located in a rural gap in the sprawl between Baltimore and Philadelphia. It’s the brainchild of Amanda Schmidt and Stewart Mostofsky, who launched the festival in 2014, in part to fill the void left in Baltimore’s music/art scene by the departure of Wham City’s beloved annual Whartscape, which ended in 2010. But Fields Fest also includes programming that falls under the nebulous definition of “wellness” —which encompasses everything from yoga and massage to tarot readings and vendors with $25 candles purportedly charged with reiki energy, whatever that is. According to popular rumor, the campground is more commonly host to swingers gatherings on other weekends. That liberal clothing-optional policy carried over to this event as well. In short, Fields Fest is weird as hell and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There was really too much great stuff this year (including things I missed) to list it all, and it’s a testament to how nimble and diverse that programming was that no one ever seemed bored. In the scorching heat, pool parties with an unlikely mix of dance DJs and live noise music performances were a hit. When Dan Deacon’s outdoor, electronics-heavy set hit technical snares, he was joined by a cadre of live musicians he’s collaborated with in the past to finish out what ended up being a fantastic show. And the number of scattered interventions curated by Carlyn Thomas—from roaming performance artists to installations tucked away across acres of campground—meant that even a walk in the woods could lead to an unlikely interaction with artwork.
When I got back to the city on Monday, I looked at my phone and realized I’d taken hardly any photos. Between the battery-challenging logistics of camping, the intermittent rain, and the implied imperative to “live in the moment,” I’m really greatful other attendees found the time to document the event on social media. I’ve collected a few of those images below, which will likely serve as an important archive of an event I imagine quite a few of my friends wish they had more clear-headed memories of.
Looking at the following images, it’s clear that Field’s aesthetic zeitgeist could best be described as “psychedelic decay” (with perhaps a suggestion of rebirth?). It’s a fitting conceptual fixation for artists from Baltimore—a city infamous both for its deterioration and related proclivity for indulging in illicit substances—transposed to the bucolic.
The Lexie Mountain Boys roamed around the campground in all-white robes. Unlike photographer Jen Mizgata, I only caught them from a distance, where their whooping vocalizations were barely audible. From afar, this looked and sounded like a cult that I really wanted to join.
Work from MICA’s Soft Sculptures and Inflatables class. Basically, these were big white balls connected to orange hoses. In the context of the forest, these were so oddly captivating and unexpected.
A photo posted by Phaan Howng (@phaanlove) on
Phaan Howng creates post-apocalyptic landscapes in a saccharine, painterly palette. Her installations at Fields comprised giant penis-like stalagmites growing out of patches of weird LED-lit foam foliage. They’re utterly alien and seductive —pretty much every stoner at the festival sat in front of this for at least fifteen minutes.
Howng’s phallic sculptures were scattered across the campsite, each peeking out from the brush like a neon fungus about to ejaculate radioactive spores.
I almost missed L.E. Doughtie’s vaguely-architectural installation the first time I walked through the woods. Several of these grids suggest a structure that had been swept away, with chunks of foam embedded at various junctures. Overhead, a string of black-and-grey pennants seemed ambiguously, incongruously cheery. It took me a minute to realize this was an artwork, and that’s always a nice surprise. It felt like a really neat fort.
Similarly, Victor Torres’s pyramid looked like one of the myriad campers’ tents dotting the lake when viewed from the opposite shoreline. Upon closer inspection, it contained a window to a video screen. When I visited it, the screen was blank. I’m not sure if this was the result of problems with the generator or deliberate—I felt like a future archaeologist discovering the contemporary era’s inoperable Library of Alexandria.
A video posted by woman’s work podcast (@womanswerk) on
FLUCT never disappoints. Above is an excerpt from their spooky X-Files-sampling dance.
Greg St. Pierre’s installation of mapped video projection screens in trees (seen here during a set from Prince Rama) was one of the festival’s most popular pieces.
A photo posted by alan resnick (@alanresnick) on
“CATS ON THE LAKE” is a sort of local meme that Ed Schrader created in 2006. He put up fliers around the city advertising a fake annual event where participants can put cats in boats and set them loose on the Inner Harbor. It’s grown into a kind of city-wide inside joke, complete with merchandising. At Field’s Fest, there was a photo-op and even a fake cat on a tiny boat adrift in the pond. I don’t know why “CATS ON THE LAKE” still brings us all so much joy, but it does.
A photo posted by Dan Deacon (@dandeaconofficial) on
Unrelated to art, nothing at Fields Fest was as reaffirming as this couple, arguably the most romantic thing I have ever seen. If I had remembered to perform my social media obligations over that magical long weekend, an image much like this would’ve been the first time I ever used the tag #squadgoals.