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Sep 2002 / sights and sounds :: email this story to a friend

Art in the Urban Wilderness
By Thomas Crone

Artica 2002: Exploring the Edge
August 10-11
North Riverfront

On the first day, it was as hot as hell. On the second day, it rained.

Artica 2002 certainly took a beating on Sunday, August 11, as morning rains poured down on the outdoor art festival, taking place in an acres-wide swath of the freaky industrial/wildlife area of the North Riverfront. The pelting surely kept the audience down; after all, on the first day, small groups of curious adventurers patrolled through the weedy, unpopulated area in search of artistic treats, despite a ferocious sun and relative lack of advance press.

The debuting Artica was split into two days, with the first featuring the installation of the works, along with live music, poetry and performance. Day two featured less structure (not that the first day was rigid), with more of an exploratory feel.

With patience and an eager eye, you could find works popping up everywhere — along dusty (then muddy) walking paths, along rail trestles, in groves of trees, on buildings and power lines. Even as the rains destroyed or altered some of the work on day two, there was a fun-in-the-city feel, as you could prowl along, finding a half-buried TV here or a faux grave there. Bird feed baked into the shapes of cookies hung from trees; balloons were attached to a giant building, the hulking structure strafed by dozens of graffiti tags; a metal bin was half-filled with colorful plastic balls.

There was a sort of anything-goes vibe. "Organic," let's say. Organizers were taking dibs on works into the final hours before the event, with the music coordinator whipping up acts and running down a generator in the last week. Artists shuffled through what had been the basement of a seriously sized warehouse well after the official start time, setting up their works; others took over a grassy field just west of the President Casino employee lot, expanding the area even more.

The area of the North Riverfront taken over by the Artica organizers is a strange one. The start of the Riverfront Bike Trail is just a few paces south. The Arch is a constant visual presence, just down Sullivan Boulevard, the Casino halfway between. To the west are the trucking companies and porn shops of North Broadway. To the north, not much at all.

While there's still some commerce in the vicinity, it's mostly a gap right now, a forgotten place, being slowly devoured by weeds, grass and trees. And, yes, graffiti.

It's, in fact, the perfect place for an event like Artica.

This first edition of Artica might not have been the "St. Louis Burning Man" as one local writer hopefully predicted; too few people or participants for that. But it is a solid idea, set in a forgiving terrain that's riddled with history. Hopefully, the event in 2003 will draw larger crowds, bigger and more dramatic works, and, most of all, a more forgiving Mother Nature.

[Click on a thumbnail image below to enlarge it.]

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