Format Festival Makes A Landing

05 Jul 2022

What do the Ozarks conjure for you? If your mind's eye oscillates from a certain Netflix show's extremes of scenes of cultural underdevelopment to scenes of abundant mountainous wilderness, you are forgiven. The region, which stretches across Missouri and Arkansas is definitely known for its scenic lakes, lush hiking trails and hot springs. But it's also home to cultural hot spots that are giving the area a re-evaluation that's long overdue.

Crystal Bridges Museum of Art and its satellite contemporary art venue and the Momentary have enriched the Ozarks with sculpture gardens, waterside pavilions and a performing arts centre that regularly stages exhibitions of American art as well as culinary experiences and festivals.

The latest exponent of the area's cultural ambitions is Format, an art and music festival that will take place from the 23 until the 25th of September in Bentonville, Arkansas. A joint effort between the aforementioned art institutions and events planners C3 Presents and Tri-adic, the festival makes an entrance with a line-up that will attract music connoisseurs and art insiders alike. Beach House, Phoenix, Rüfüs Du Sol, The War on Drugs, The Flaming Lips, Khruangbin, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Jungle, and Herbie Hancock will be taking the stage – and perform in alternative settings like a multi-room immersive installation by New York based artists Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, a hidden forest enclave and a Drag Disco music venue created by Maurizio Cattelan's TOILETPAPER Magazine.Nick Cave will stage his legendary “Soundsuits,” with composer Jlin and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and Doug Aitken’s mirrored hot-air balloon, New Horizon, will travel from the Momentary to the FORMAT site as part of a kick-off event.

Sissel Tolaas, a Norwegian artist and researcher known for her work with smell, was invited by Tri-adic to create a site-specific work with smell molecules for Format. The Cultivist sniffed out what her installation concept for the festival is all about.

The Cultivist: Can you tell us about the installation you will be showing at FORMAT and what makes it a fitting concept for this festival?

Sissel Tolaas: The installation is titled BR_earth (Earth Breathing). It is a 'playground' for the sense of smell. Site-specific molecules from below and surrounding the installation will be redirected through a massive airpipe. The airpipe is laid out in the landscape in the shape of a labyrinth with various outlets – air places – where the smell will invite gatherings and hangouts.

Installation view of Sissel Tolaas', 'RE________’, 2021, at Astrup Fearnley Museet​​​​​​, Oslo. Courtesy: the artist and Astrup Fearnley Museet​​​​​​, Oslo; photograph: Christian-Øen
Installation view of Sissel Tolaas', 'RE________’, 2021, at Astrup Fearnley Museet​​​​​​, Oslo. Courtesy: the artist and Astrup Fearnley Museet​​​​​​, Oslo; photograph: Christian-Øen
Nick Cave's 'Soundsuits'. Photo by James Prinz.
Nick Cave's 'Soundsuits'. Photo by James Prinz.
Doug Aitken, New Horizon, 2019. Photo: Jamie Barron/©Doug Aitken/Courtesy the artist and the Trustees of Reservations, MA
Doug Aitken, New Horizon, 2019. Photo: Jamie Barron/©Doug Aitken/Courtesy the artist and the Trustees of Reservations, MA

The Cultivist: How will the audience collaborate or engage with it?

Sissel Tolaas: The installation invites audiences to a different understanding of the site-specific. The air we all breathe is the only thing we all share. The installation's air contains specific information about where one is, what is going on and makes one act and react accordingly. The installation invites togetherness and evokes a curiosity towards the invisible.

The Cultivist: In the process of working on this event, is there something about Arkansas or Bentonville that surprised you?

Sissel Tolaas: The impressive surrounding nature of the Ozarks. The lakes and streams all provide very interesting unfamiliar smell molecule combinations.

The Cultivist: What in your studio could you not go without?

Sissel Tolaas: My smell molecules: I have 10,222 in total.

– Words by Siska Lyssens