Austin, Texas' Fusebox festival is 10 years young, wildly eclectic, transnational — and free!
Los Angeles–based multimedia artist Miwa Matrayek had two exquisite, visually and musically lush works in this year's festival, Myth and Infrastructure and This World Made Itself. Both feature her astounding multi-projection animations, into which she folds her own 2D shadow-screen persona in real time. Disappearing into this layered screen world, her shadow becomes traveler and witness to the great and ominous unfolding of human action in the natural world. Indeed, This World Made Itself in particular proved a forceful complement to Man Ex Machina as it pondered the evolutionary timeline of earth, human agency, and the fragility of life in its own distinctive aesthetic and emotional register.
Beyond the merits of any single work, what remains so impressive about the festival's diverse offerings (and artistic director Ron Berry's shrewd curatorial vision) is the way the pieces so often spoke to one another. These unpredictable resonances emerged organically for the most part, but together with infusions of the featured Paloma Mezcal punch they fueled a subtle expansion of thought and feeling in a laidback setting devoid of any preciousness.
Free Range meant one more thing at this year's Fusebox: For the first time in this modest-sized but distinguished festival's 10-year history, all tickets to all shows were free to the public. The festival's organizers say they hope that by eliminating the ticket price — while still programming leading and challenging work — Fusebox will spur a deeper conversation about value, rather than continue to mask it behind the narrow and misleading idea that the ticket price is the end of the story (in reality, ticket prices rarely even come close to covering the actual material cost of producing such work).
Whatever else, the free ticket seemed to at least eliminate the mundane anxiety that comes with unfolding your wallet and deciding whether a purchase is worthwhile. Getting rid of that consumer judgment may also be enough to subtly but productively change the terms of relation between the public and the artist. If that's a hard thing to measure, it was easy enough to detect in the amiable mixing that went on throughout the festival. And who knows, it's possible too that a "free range" opens up a mental and social environment in which the real value and import of much of this work — whether delivered through the taste buds by high-concept gelato or reflected in the miraculously beautiful, agonized mirrors of Matreyek's animated sets — can be transmitted to us all with less distortion from the ideological frequencies of a market-driven society. *