The executive director of Children’s Fairyland, C.J. Hirschfield, probably doesn’t listen to deadmau5, but standing in front of the park with mouse ears flashing colored lights on top of her head, she looked ready for a rave. Friday night’s Magic Lantern event gave the big kids a rare opportunity to drink and smoke and dance with glow sticks around the children’s park, but beyond being a fun party at an unusual venue, it pushed the boundaries of the park itself, inspiring original music and art that raised questions about adult play and childhood isolation.
By day, Fairyland, with its 1950s sculptures of dragons, mushrooms, and Willie the big blue whale, is surreal; Magic Lantern dosed the place with the artistic equivalent of LSD, featuring thirteen tripped-out video installations projected throughout the park while droning guitars and tweaked-out electronic noise emanated from the park’s main stage.
Outreach and volunteer coordinator Mary Anne Kluth, who got a BFA at California College of the Arts and an MFA at San Francisco Art Institute, started working at Fairyland in 2006 as a restoration painter. After two successful adult-only events with local apparel and events company Oaklandish, her boss, Hirschfield, gave her free rein to curate Magic Lantern, which was the park’s first live music and fine-art event. Kluth selected the art while her husband, Bryan Von Reuter, formerly of Cloud Archive, brought in Clipd Beaks, Mwahaha, White Cloud, and Jeff Ray of Taser Island for an all-night show of improvisational music.
“There’s a pent-up demand for adults to come to the park,” said Kluth. “There was worry about alcohol. People are nervous, but it’s been fine.”
Kluth and Von Reuter, who are both in their late twenties, set out to challenge the crowd at Magic Lantern. Instead of having the perennial and popular Oakland band Clipd Beaks headline a standard set, Von Reuter asked the noise experimentalists to prepare and rehearse a partially composed collaboration with the electronically inclined Mwahaha and experimental pop band White Cloud. Von Reuter and Taser Island joined them on the Fairyland stage for what grew into a dozen performers improvising and looping their sounds so loud they likely could have been heard from the opposite side of Lake Merritt. Artists walked on and off the stage throughout the evening, devoid of ego or pretense, and the chaotic music peaked into a solid composition about two hours into the performance. The musicians at Magic Lantern seemed to have the most fun of anyone there — normally a bad sign about a show, but not in this case.
Kluth incorporated art she’d discovered in her previous work curating galleries such as The Lab in San Francisco, and selected new works created only for Magic Lantern. More than half the pieces came from a call to entries issued in August, which invited the community to propose art projects inspired by Fairyland. Maggie Wong and Seth Neill’s “Eye Beam” was one of the community-submitted works, which Kluth selected for its sculptural qualities that fit into the existing aesthetics. A two-foot-tall, black-and-white, papier-mâché-style eyeball, “Eye Beam” blended so well into Fairyland’s already bizarre sculptures that Kluth had to point out it was projecting the meteor shower of geometric animations before us.
Kluth selected Ranu Mukherjee’s “Ecstatic Picture, spilled milk,” a five-minute video that felt more like a painting in its use of slowed-down animation and photography, except for the cell phones that dropped into the image. The themes of childhood isolation and loneliness resonated with some of what Kluth often observes first-hand at Fairyland.
“It’s kids pushing strollers and parents on their cell phones,” said Kluth. “That’s something we’ve always tried to discourage at Fairyland.”
Artist Erica Gangsei’s stop-motion animations, reminiscent of the creepy but cool Frosty the Snowman from the Christmas TV special, also aimed to infuse emotion into everyday objects. Using found and recycled materials such as fake Christmas trees and discarded fabric, Gangsei’s three films follow the objects’ adventures at sea, in a cave, and in an Arctic glacier. The films appropriated music from composers such as Philip Glass.
“The fake flower gets drowned in the blue lamé to provoke a feeling of empathy,” said Gangsei, turning to a woman who had pulled off her headphones and started getting up to leave the piece. “You stopped the video right at the best part!”
Gangsei spent the evening interacting with the crowd that gathered under Pinocchio’s castle to watch her films, which screened on homemade monitors that still smelled of the spray-paint that covered them. She compared Magic Lantern to other music and art exhibitions (something she deals with everyday as the manager of interpretive media at SFMOMA), recognizing it as a rare opportunity for adults to express something about a space that’s normally reserved for kids. (There are discussions about having more events at Fairyland, but nothing is scheduled at this time.)
“Fairyland is already an alternate reality, and this is opening up additional windows into that alternate reality. It asks, how can I suck you further into this feeling of magic and wonder?” Magic and wonder, yes for sure, but also weird and uncomfortable in all the right ways.